Your external skin isn’t the only area of your body that can be burned. A bite into a hot piece of pizza can burn your hard palate, also known as the roof of your mouth. A sip of piping hot coffee or a bite into oven-fresh food can burn your tongue. Your mouth has many delicate tissues that may be sensitive to hot foods and drinks.
These tissues in your mouth are more susceptible to burns than some other soft tissues in your body because they’re especially delicate and thin. In order to appreciate the sensations of eating and drinking, this skin needs to be delicate. It can be easily damaged as a result.
How to treat minor burns on the roof of your
First-degree burns (or minor burns) on the roof of your mouth don’t require medical attention. In fact, treating most minor mouth burns is simple. Here are some common treatments you can use at home.
Food and drink
Sip something cool or frozen, such as ice, to help ease the pain. Some drinks, such as milk, coat the inside of your mouth. They provide a layer of relief that water can’t.
Foods that might help include:
- sugarless gum
- smooth, creamy foods such as yogurt, ice cream, sour cream, and cheeses
- cold or frozen foods such as ice pops, pudding, and applesauce
While you’re healing, avoid crunchy foods or foods that have sharp edges or ends. These foods can aggravate the skin. Avoid hot or spicy foods, too. Opt for cool, soft foods until your mouth burns heal.
Infections from minor mouth burns are rare. Saltwater rinses can help with mouth pain and have been shown to promote wound healing. Prepare the rinse by dissolving 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of lukewarm water. This should be done three to four times per day.
You can take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication to help ease the pain and inflammation. Common OTC medications include ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and benzocaine (Orajel). Do not take more than the daily recommended dosage of each of these medications.
Aloe vera can soothe a skin burn and it can be used orally as well. Look for mouth rinses that contain aloe vera extract. Aloe vera can also be found in gel and juice form. Currently, there are no studies that prove aloe vera’s usefulness in the treatment of mouth burns.
What to avoid while healing
Your mouth usually heals fully in about a week. To help speed up the healing process, here are some tips that may help:
- Avoid acidic foods and drinks like tomatoes, orange juice, and coffee.
- Avoid spicy foods.
- Avoid products with mint or cinnamon (try switching to flavor-free toothpaste).
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco products.
How to know if a mouth burn is severe
First-degree burns cause minimal skin damage. They are also called “superficial burns” because they affect the outermost layer of skin. Signs of a first-degree burn include:
- minor inflammation, or swelling
- dry, peeling skin that occurs as the burn heals
A more severe burn, such as a second- or third-degree burn, requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of these burns include:
- severe pain
In addition to blisters, you may notice pockets of pus if an infection develops in your mouth.
A third-degree burn can affect nerves in your mouth and damage other structures. The affected nerves may be unable to relay pain signals to your brain. These types of burns can cause severe complications.
Burning mouth syndrome
You may feel a burning sensation in your mouth, and it may not have any obvious cause. If this pain continues for days or months at a time, you might have burning mouth syndrome (BMS).
Some common symptoms of BMS include:
- burning or scalding pain in the mouth (for no reason)
- numbness in the mouth
- dry mouth
- metallic, bitter, or other unusual tastes in the mouth
- pain or numbness in the tongue, lips, or gums
BMS makes you feel as if you’ve burned or scalded the tissues in your mouth, but there aren’t any noticeable skin changes. It can be mild or painful, like you’ve bitten into something extremely hot. But BMS is often unpredictable and can occur without warning. It may last for days on end without stopping, or it can appear only every few days or months.
There are two types of BMS. Primary BMS isn’t caused by another medical condition and may result from damaged nerve pathways. Secondary BMS is caused by medical conditions such as:
If you feel burning in your mouth for an extended period of time, ask your doctor to test you for BMS. It can be difficult to diagnose. Your doctor may use several different tests, including blood tests, tissue biopsies, saliva tests, or allergy tests.
Treatments for BMS depend on the cause. There isn’t a cure, but your doctor may recommend the following treatments:
- lidocaine or other topical medications
- clonazepam, an anticonvulsant
- oral medications for nerve pain
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to soothe the pain
Your doctor may also recommend taking a dietary supplement to treat the source of the pain. If you have dentures, your doctor may recommend replacing them.
When to see a doctor
In some instances, your mouth burn may become so painful that home remedies don’t provide any relief. You may have a severe burn if:
- sores or white patches appear in your mouth
- you develop a fever
- the burn isn’t healing quickly
- you have trouble swallowing
Seek medical treatment for burns with any of these symptoms. Burns may require emergency room treatment or an in-office visit, depending on severity.
Second-degree burns require medical treatment. However, you may be able to ease the pain with OTC remedies like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Third-degree burns need emergency medical treatment.
When in doubt, call your doctor or go to an urgent care center. Describe your symptoms, what treatments you have tried, and how well they worked. You and your doctor can decide on the best course of treatment.
If you have a severe burn, antibiotics may be necessary to fight off bacterial infections in your mouth. Some common antibiotics used include penicillin, amoxicillin/clavulanate, oxacillin, cefazolin, and ampicillin. If there is severe damage to the oral cavity or surrounding structures, your doctor may need to perform a skin graft or other surgeries to restore function to the area.
Mouth burns in children
If your child gets a first-degree burn in their mouth, treat the burn like you would for an adult. Start by giving them milk or other cold or frozen liquids. If your child feels a lot of pain, give them appropriate doses of medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Don’t use medicines that contain ingredients that your child is allergic to. Also, use benzocaine sparingly, as it has been shown to cause rare but serious side effects.
The skin may peel for two to three days before it starts healing, and it may cause your child a lot of pain and discomfort. If the symptoms don’t improve after two days, take your child to the doctor. If abnormal fluids or pus start leaking from the burn or your child develops a fever, talk to their doctor right away.
If your child gets a second- or third-degree burn, take them to the doctor immediately for treatment and a full assessment. The doctor can also evaluate if there is damage to the nerves or any other tissues.
Most mild mouth burns can be treated at home and go away in a matter of days. Severe mouth burns might need long-term treatments to preserve skin tissue and help heal the nerves inside your mouth. See your doctor if you think your burns are severe. Getting treatment is essential to prevent lasting damage, scarring, infections, and other complications.
Q&A: Advice from a dentist
As a dentist, what advice do you have for dealing with mouth burns?
The easiest remedy for mouth burns is prevention. Make sure that big bite of pizza has cooled down before you eat it. Always check how hot the item is before consumption. For immediate relief, suck on something cold, like ice cubes or popsicles. Also, yogurt, milk, or honey can help by coating the burned area. Warm salt water rinses also help. Salt is antiseptic and will clean and disinfect the area. To help with the pain, try over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Avoid spicy, crunchy, and citrus foods while healing. A smooth, soft diet can help.Christine Frank, DDSAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.