When you’re too distracted to notice steam still rising from your plate (or too hungry to care), a burnt tongue is most likely in your future. But what do you do when that soup, latte or pizza goes down way hotter than expected?
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“Minor mouth burns usually don’t require treatment,” says family medicine doctor Matthew Goldman, MD. But they do hurt. Dr. Goldman gives four easy ways to soothe mouth pain.
What causes mouth burns?
What makes your first bite oh-so-delicious is also what makes your mouth sensitive to extreme temperatures. The delicate tissues inside your mouth allow you to taste a variety of flavors — but are easy to injure, too. Just one bite or sip can leave you dealing with a first-degree burn, or damage to your first layer of skin.
“Some of the most common causes of oral burns include hot foods and nearly boiling liquids,” explains Dr. Goldman. “Burns in the mouth can also occur from inhaling hot vapor.”
How to heal a burnt tongue and mouth
The good news? Minor mouth burns usually aren’t serious and clear up within a few days. To help with the discomfort, Dr. Goldman recommends:
- Good oral hygiene: Keeping your mouth clean helps prevent infection, especially if you have an open wound or blister.
- Saline rinses: Salt rinses are doubly effective. They can ease mouth pain and lower infection risk. “But avoid alcohol-based mouth rinses, which can irritate wounds and increase pain,” advises Dr. Goldman.
- Petroleum jelly: Apply some on your lips and the corners of your mouth to keep things moist and comfortable while you heal.
- Topical antibiotic ointment: Antibiotic ointment also keeps the outside of your mouth hydrated while staving off infection — but never put them inside your mouth.
When to seek medical care for a mouth burn
The epiglottis is a flap that covers your windpipe. It’s located behind and below the back of the tongue. Mouth burns become more serious if the epiglottis is inflamed or swollen after a scalding burn.
“This is especially important in young children because their airways are narrower and more likely to be blocked from that swelling,” notes Dr. Goldman. “If you are concerned about breathing or severity of the injury, go to the emergency department where they can examine the epiglottis.”
Scarring at the corners of the mouth can also lead to complications, including microstomia (the inability to open the mouth as wide as you need to). “Severe microstomia can affect your appearance, nutritional intake and quality of life.”
And discuss any concerns about physical abuse, underlying diseases and follow-up care with a healthcare professional.
So while there is no quick-fix for a mouth burn (yes, that first sizzling bite of pizza may have ruined the rest of the slice for you), rest assured that it will most likely go away on its own. And next time, remember to blow on it first!