Most of the time, a mouth sore will be something benign like a canker sore or an abscess caused by a virus. Those generally get better within ten days, though, so a sore that sticks around for two weeks or more could be a sign to worry, says Brian Burkey, MD, a head and neck oncology specialist with the Cleveland Clinic. The sore’s texture can also give you a clue as to whether it could be oral cancer. “Most abscess ulcers are quite thin and soft, whereas tumors are thicker and hard,” says Dr. Burkey. Plus, ulcers and canker sores rarely bleed, but tumors bleed frequently. If it turns out to be benign, check out these home remedies for cold sores.
As an oral cancer tumor outgrows its blood supply and forms an ulcer, bacteria could infect the sore, says Mark Persky, MD, head and neck tumor management specialist at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center. Those bacteria leave a foul smell that, unlike your typical morning breath, won’t go away when you brush your teeth. Plus, pain in the mouth might make it difficult to swallow. “You build up bacteria in the mouth that typically gets flushed out with the swallowing,” says Dr. Persky. “The bacteria that stay there are producing gasses that produce bad breath.” Even if something less scary like tonsillitis or these 12 causes of bad breath are behind the stench, there’s no harm in checking in with your doctor if the bad breath sticks around for more than two and a half weeks, says Dr. Burkey. Find out what else your bad breath could say about your health.