Cracks at the corners of your mouth, a chronic inflammatory condition medically known as angular cheilitis or perleche, can be painful, unsightly and embarrassing. Although these cracks may look and feel dry, dry skin is not the cause of cheilitis, and applying moisturizer may make matters worse. See your doctor if you have painful cracks at the corners of your mouth. Angular cheilitis-- although persistent-- can be treated.
Along with cracks and fissures at the corners of your mouth, symptoms of angular cheilitis include stinging and burning sensations, tingling, inflammation, ulceration, itchiness and reddened skin. Cracks may form and crust over, then split open and bleed when the mouth is opened. The condition can last for several months if untreated. According to John L. Meisenheimer, a dermatologist in Orlando, angular cheilitis is uncomfortable but harmless, and can't spread beyond the corners of the mouth.
An abundance of moisture actually contributes to the formation of cracks at the corners of the mouth. Excess saliva collecting at the corners of the mouth-- often a result of poorly fitting dentures -- can break down the skin and set the stage for the infection that causes angular cheilitis. According to Skinsight, this is usually either Other causes of angular cheilitis can include deficiencies of vitamin B-12 and of vitamin B-9, also called folate. Care Fair notes that contact allergies to lipstick or toothpaste can also cause cheilitis.
Your doctor may prescribe a topical antifungal ointment, such as nystatin, clotrimazole, or econazole, to treat angular cheilitis. According to Skinsight, he may also suggest a hydrocortisone cream as well. Severe cases of angular cheilitis may require oral antifungal medication.
One of the most important things you can do to control angular cheilitis is to stop licking the corners of your mouth. Although it is momentarily soothing to do this, it ultimately worsens the condition. Care Fair advises eating foods rich in B-complex vitamins, such as dairy products, cereals, leafy green vegetables, eggs, beans and lean meats. Avoid lipsticks, lip glosses and lip liners if you think you may be allergic to them. Clean dentures in a solution of 10 parts water to one part bleach, according to Skinsight. Clean metal dentures with a chlorhexidine mouth rinse.
Angular cheilitis occurs frequently in older adults, usually as a result of ill-fitting dentures. However, it can affect people of any age. Diabetes, anemia or a weakened immune system can put you at risk for cheilitis, according to Skinsight, but the condition can affect people with no health problems. A deficiency of iron, folate or vitamin B-12 can make you more likely to develop cheilitis.