Cheilosis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

If you have ever experienced a deep crack on one or both sides of the mouth, then you probably also experienced the deep concern that accompanies this uncomfortable and cosmetically undesirable condition. It’s no surprise if you have questions about what the condition is; there are multiple names for the condition and it can become very confusing and frustrating to try and sort out what is happening. The good news is it is possible to get help for cheilosis, to recognize the symptoms, and to get information about the best treatment options available.


What is Cheilosis?

Cheilosis is a condition where the corners of the mouth become inflamed, which can lead to cracking and pain at the corners of the mouth. The cracks can split and bleed; they can also make it difficult to yawn, chew, or talk. It can happen to people of any age group. It is also called cheilitis, angular cheilitis, angular cheilosis, and perleche.

There are multiple causes of cheilosis. Badly fitting dentures, braces that cause a misalignment of the lips and corners of the mouth, and thumb sucking type behaviors all are associated with pooling saliva at the corners of the mouth, which can cause irritation and inflammation of cheilosis. Nutritional deficiencies can also cause cheilosis. A lack of iron or B vitamins are the most frequent missing nutrients that cause this condition. It can also be caused by an infection, commonly oral candidiasis or strep bacteria (though it can sometimes be confused with a herpes cold sore). Sometimes, cheilosis can be the result of allergic irritation or skin irritation like eczema.

Cheilosis Symptoms

The primary symptoms are redness, pain, and broken skin at the corners of the mouth. The corners of the mouth may bleed or become crusted over or scaly. Chapped lips and difficulty using your mouth for talking and eating are also possible symptoms of cheilosis.

If you suspect you have cheilosis, check with your oral health care team or your regular doctor to confirm your suspicions. It’s a good idea to make sure you don’t have a different cause for the irritation around the corners of your mouth, which your oral care team can help you with. It’s also important to determine the cause of cheilosis so you can select a treatment that will work for your specific case.

How to Treat Cheilosis

Treatment for cheilosis depends on your specific cause of the condition. If you have cheilosis from poorly fitting dentures or braces, having your dentures or braces adjusted can provide relief. If thumb-sucking or other oral habits are the underlying cause, it’s important to change the behaviors to allow the skin at the corners of the mouth to clear up.

If an oral infection is causing the problem, your doctor or dentist can prescribe a cream—either an anti-fungal agent or an antibiotic—to be applied to the broken skin until the condition clears up. In the case of anemia or another nutrient deficiency, a vitamin supplement, diet changes, or both will help clear up cheilosis. If it’s an allergic reaction or irritation, you will need to avoid the irritating substance. A topical steroid to reduce inflammation may also be helpful when treating cheilosis.

If you have any condition that is negatively impacting your oral health, don’t hesitate! Reach out to your oral care team and find out what’s causing your oral health issues. They will not only be able to help you identify what’s making you uncomfortable, but they will also be able to suggest treatments to improve your health and comfort.

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