Tongue Sores During Pregnancy | Causes & Treatments

Young girl pregnant expecting baby over isolated pink background sticking tongue out

Is it normal to get mouth or tongue sores during pregnancy? If you’re already someone who is prone to the occasional canker sore or aphthous ulcer, you may be wondering if it’s natural to see an uptick in tongue sores during pregnancy. But depending on how large they are and how many you have, it might not be pregnancy-related at all. On the other hand, the changes you’re going through as the result of growing another human being inside of you can take a toll on your body unlike you’ve ever experienced. Here’s how to know what’s normal (and what isn’t.)

Some types of mouth sores and tongue ulcers are viral, while others are associated with nutritional deficiencies (such as geographic tongue). Factors like dietary changes or oral hygiene habits during pregnancy can put you at an increased risk of canker sores and aphthous ulcers. Dental experts also agree that hormonal changes can place expectant women at a higher likelihood of ulcers or tongue sores during pregnancy. Symptoms generally improve in 1-2 months after giving birth.

Common Symptoms

Most tongue sores during pregnancy mimic the same signs and symptoms of traditional ulcers. They tend to be quite tender to the touch or even hurt so much that it’s difficult to eat. Looking closely, the area will appear smooth and raw. Sores are easier to see on your tongue since the papilla (finger-like projects) are no longer there.

The pain of most oral sores usually heals on its own within 10-14 days. You’ll probably notice the most discomfort during the first few days, with a gradual improvement until completely healed. At times you may not feel the discomfort at all, until you irritate it with something salty or rough

Occasionally, ulcers and tongue sores during pregnancy may also contribute to halitosis (bad breath.) Especially if the sore is due to a yeast or bacterial infection such as thrush.

If for any reason you have nodules or lumps alongside of the sore that makes swallowing difficult, you will need to see your dentist. Sores that don’t heal within two weeks should be screened by a healthcare professional to rule out the potential for oral cancer. Since early intervention and diagnosis are crucial for a successful oral cancer treatment, don’t put the visit off, even if the sore doesn’t hurt.

Common Causes

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause some women to see an uptick in the usual number of canker sores or tongue sores during pregnancy.[1] As a general rule, women tend to get more ulcer than men, and it’s thought to be due to a combination of hormones and genetics. As such, it comes as no surprise that rapidly changing hormonal levels from pregnancy may trigger an increase in ulcer formation.

Nutritional deficiencies play a direct role in oral sores; such dietary concerns can pop up during pregnancy.[2] After all, women tend to experience food aversions from morning sickness or increased nausea, leading to poor nutritional absorption. Geographic tongue is just one type of lesion that presents itself as tongue sores during pregnancy, and may be linked to a vitamin deficiency.

Trauma from a bump to the mouth — even if it’s with a toothbrush — can also lead to ulcers. A classic example is slipping with your toothbrush and hitting an area too hard. If you’re someone who ever wore braces, you probably got an ulcer or two where the metal wire constantly poked at your mouth. The surface irritation to your mouth is all it takes to create an ulcer.

Acidic foods, heartburn, and frequent bouts of morning sickness can lower the pH levels inside of your mouth. For some people those additional acid exposures can make them more prone to getting ulcers and sores. If any of those conditions affect you on a day to day basis, you can minimize acid exposure by frequent rinsing with water and sleeping with your head elevated. The key is to reduce how much contact time your stomach acids or acidic foods have inside your mouth.

Viral strains such as herpes are responsible for specific cluster-type ulcers and larger tongue sores that create cratered-out areas in your mouth. Rest assured, these strains are similar to like what you would see in chicken pox or shingles (not the STD.) They’re known for laying low inside of your body and occasionally flaring up, especially when your immune system is compromised.

Stress, allergies, and even certain blends of toothpaste (like those that contain sodium laurel sulfate) can also potentially trigger sores.

Treatment 

Treating tongue sores during pregnancy involves plenty of time and grace. The typical mouth sore or ulcer usually heals on its own within 7-10 days and no longer than two weeks. Anything longer than that could be cause for alarm.

  1. Avoid hard foods, which may irritate the sore and delay healing. Try to stick to softer items that require little chewing, such as pudding, yogurt, applesauce, etc.
  2. Gently rinse with a warm saltwater solution a few times a day to clean the wound and reduce swelling.
  3. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as Tylenol, as long as you’re cleared to do so by your OBGYN.
  4. If needed, you can occasionally use teething gel for mouth sores, especially if they interfere with eating.
  5. Are you someone who tends to get the occasional cold sore? These viral-induced ulcers can sometimes be treated with a soft tissue dental laser to shorten their lifespan. The key is to see your dentist as soon as the “tingling” or “pinprick” sensation starts to flare up in that area.
  6. If you’re someone who tends to repeatedly see viral ulcers, you may need to talk to your dentist about getting a prescription medication to treat tongue sores during pregnancy.
  7. Infected sores that result in the spread of redness and inflammation should be treated by a dental or medical provider.

Geographic Tongue

Have you ever noticed oddly shaped tongue sores during pregnancy? Geographic tongue is a condition that — as you might guess — creates the appearance of what looks like a map spread across the top and sides of your tongue. The borders mirror that of the continents and shorelines you would see on a map or globe. On top of that, the shapes can gradually change as the sores “migrate” across your tongue.

The tastebuds and papillae (bumpy extensions) on your tongue in those areas will be raw and tender. The papilla are often destroyed temporarily and grow back once the condition subsides.

Geographic tongue sores during pregnancy may be due to elevated hormone levels as well as stress.[3] Others believe that it can be complicated by certain vitamin deficiencies. Fortunately, most pregnant women will see the condition improve within about six weeks of giving birth, after hormone levels subside.

Prevention

Ulcers, fever blisters, mouth, and tongue sores during pregnancy are usually the same type of sores you see when you aren’t pregnant. But stress and hormonal changes during pregnancy, along with dietary deficiencies, can play into your chances of more frequent mouth and tongue sores. With the proper self-care, most of these ulcers go away within 1-2 weeks. But if they aren’t healing properly or hurt so bad that they interfere with eating, it’s best to go ahead and have your dentist take a look at them.