Overview

The delicate skin on the roof of your mouth takes a lot of daily wear and tear. Occasionally, the roof of your mouth, or the hard palate, may bother you or cause problems, such as swelling or inflammation.

Keep reading to learn more about what could be causing the roof of your mouth to swell and what you can do to treat it.

Other symptoms

Along with swelling in your mouth, you may experience other symptoms. These other symptoms may help direct you and your doctor toward a diagnosis. They include:

Pain

In some cases, pain will accompany swelling in the roof of your mouth. Some of the conditions that could cause pain are serious. These conditions include oral cancer, alcohol-related liver disease, and hepatitis.

Dry mouth

Dry mouth is a common condition that could be an indication of several problems. Most notably, dry mouth could be a symptom of a blockage in your saliva glands, trauma, or burns from hot food or liquid. Drinking alcohol can cause you to become dehydrated, which leads to dry mouth and swelling in the roof of your mouth.

Sores or blisters

Canker sores and cold sores cause small bumps or nodules. As they grow larger, these spots may become irritated and painful.

Muscle spasms

When the levels of electrolytes in your body fall too low, you may experience muscle spasms, contractions, or cramps. Maintaining adequate levels of these various minerals will help you avoid symptoms of dehydration or overhydration.

Causes

Pinpointing a reason for your swollen palate may be made easier if you understand the possible causes. These include:

Trauma

Mouth trauma can occur in several ways:

  • Eating foods that are too hot can burn the delicate skin of your hard palate. This may cause blisters or pockets of burned skin.
  • Eating hard foods, such as tortilla chips, hard candies, and firm fruits and vegetables, can hurt the roof of your mouth.
  • Scratching the hard palate may lead to swelling and inflammation.

Mouth sores

Before they become obvious spots or blisters, cold sores and canker sores may cause swelling on the roof of your mouth. Stress and hormonal changes may trigger a canker sore. Many canker sores develop on your cheek or the gums near your teeth, but it’s not uncommon for them to appear on the roof of your mouth, too.

A common virus called the herpes simplex virus causes cold sores. Most cold sores last about a week and disappear without treatment. Typically, cold sores appear on your lip, but they may crop up on your hard palate.

Electrolyte imbalance

Electrolytes are minerals in your body fluids, blood, and urine. Maintaining adequate electrolyte levels is very important for proper body functions. When levels of electrolytes become too low or too high, you may experience any number of symptoms, including swelling in the roof of your mouth.

Alcohol use

People who drink heavily and have a hangover the next day may notice swelling and discomfort in the roof of their mouths. That’s because alcohol encourages your body to release more urine, which can leave you dehydrated. Dehydration can cause dry mouth. Excessive dry mouth may lead to swelling or tenderness on the roof of your mouth.

Mouth cancer and other serious conditions

In rare cases, swelling on the roof of your mouth may be a symptom of a serious health issue, such as oral cancer. Likewise, if swelling on the roof of the mouth is accompanied by abdominal tenderness, it could be a sign of hepatitis.

When to see your doctor

If a cause for the swelling in the roof of your mouth is easy to identify, such as hot coffee, you may not need to visit your doctor. You can simply give the burn time to heal.

Some people will need medical treatment for swelling on the roof of the mouth. Ask yourself these questions when trying to decide if you should see your doctor:

  • How severe is the pain? If the swelling and pain caused by this issue becomes too difficult to handle with over-the-counter (OTC) treatments, you may need medical attention.
  • Is the swelling getting worse, staying the same, or shrinking? If the swelling doesn’t diminish after a week, see your doctor.
  • What other symptoms are you experiencing? If you have several other symptoms, you might want to see your doctor about it soon. An early diagnosis may help you get treatment faster.

Diagnosis

Your doctor or dentist will examine your mouth. For most people, a simple visual examination is all that’s necessary.

If your doctor is uncertain or if your symptoms last more than a week, your doctor may take cell scrapings from the roof of your mouth for a biopsy. Looking at the cells under a microscope may give your doctor an indication of what’s causing the problem.

Treatment

Your best course of treatment will depend on the cause of the swelling.

Trauma

If you burn the roof of your mouth, immediately rinse your mouth with cool water. If you develop painful blisters, contact your doctor. Medicated mouthwashes may be the first line of treatment for burns that don’t heal quickly. Some oral gels and pastes can also be applied to areas that are severely burned.

Learn more: How to treat a burn on the roof of your mouth »

Electrolyte imbalance

If you’re dehydrated, drinking several ounces of fluid may rehydrate you. In severe cases of dehydration, you may need to seek emergency medical treatment.

Sores or blisters

Both canker sores and cold sores typically disappear on their own in a week to 10 days. During that time, OTC pain-relieving gels may help ease irritation and pain.

Cancer

If cancer is causing your symptoms, your doctor will refer you to an oncologist. Together, you’ll explore a variety of treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Outlook

In many cases, the swelling or inflammation you’re experiencing will go away on its own. More severe causes for swelling of the roof of your mouth, such as cancer, are rare. It’s more likely that you’ve irritated the delicate skin on your hard palate. As you recover, remember to give your skin time to heal. Don’t eat extremely hot or hard food while your skin is already sensitive, and avoid foods that irritate the roof of your mouth. If the swelling doesn’t go away in five days to a week, you should see your doctor.

Prevention

It’s not possible to prevent all of the possible causes of swelling in the roof of your mouth, but keep these things in mind if you’re prone to these issues:

Let food cool

Don’t eat a slice of pizza that’s too hot or sip on coffee that’s scalding. Both can burn the delicate skin in your mouth.

Chew carefully

Hard foods not only hurt your teeth, but they can damage your gums and the skin on your hard palate. Take small bites, and chew gently.

Avoid stress

Canker sores may be more likely to crop up during times of high stress. Take steps to relieve stress. This can include exercise, meditation, and deep breathing. If you need more assistance with managing stress, seek help from a professional therapist.