Q. I struggled with a condition called angular cheilitis for 60 years. From the time I was five years old until two years ago I had redness, irritation and cracks at the corners of my mouth.
When my family doctor tested my vitamin D level the result came back showing that I was highly deficient. My score was 12. I believe 20 is considered barely normal and 30 to 50 is optimal.
My doctor had me start taking 2,000 IU of the vitamin D3 and the first thing I noticed was that the corners of my mouth were no longer cracking and sore or bleeding. Since then I have continued to take 2,000 IUs and have had a flare-up only once, when I was traveling and neglected to take my pills.
I mentioned the connection between vitamin D and angular cheilitis on a recent visit to a dermatologist, and he dismissed what I told him, saying it was rare for vitamin D to help something like this. Perhaps I am a rare bird, but I swear that taking vitamin D has healed what was a lifelong problem for me.
A. Cracks in the corner of the mouth can be incredibly uncomfortable. These splits can crust over or bleed if they go deep enough. The medical terms for this condition include:
• Angular cheilitis
• Angular stomatitis
It is not entirely clear what causes these fissures to form, though nutritional deficiencies are sometimes blamed. Low levels of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) are sometimes suspected as a contributing factor. Ditto for zinc and iron. We have not heard of a link between low levels of vitamin D and angular cheilitis. We did find one fascinating study, however, demonstrating that a vitamin D ointment called calcipotriol (Dovonex) that is used to treat psoriasis worked extremely well to treat a somewhat similar condition called leukoplakia (white patches on gums or tongue).
Doctors also believe that a fungal infection (Candida albicans) may contribute to both angular cheilitis and leukoplakia. Bacteria may also play a role in the lesions in the corner of the mouth. That may be why Listerine with its high alcohol content and anti-fungal essential oils may help some people. Here are some other stories from visitors to this site:
“I used to suffer from these painful, raw cracks in corners of my mouth. My dentist suggested I use an inexpensive over-the-counter anti-fungus cream (such as athlete’s foot cream). Within a week the cracks healed, and I haven’t been bothered since.”
“I have had angular cheilitis for about a year and a half now. I went to my Dr. after 3 months of trying numerous things to heal my mouth. I told her that I thought it was angular cheilitis after researching it. She laughed at me and said that the last time she saw something like that, it was an allergy to some food. She gave me an antibiotic which did nothing and then another prescription (I don’t even remember what it was) that also did nothing. I was miserable.
“I went for my regular dental check up and told my dentist. She told me that it was angular cheilitis and gave me a prescription for nystatin and triamcinolone acetonide. It cleared it up right away. She also told me that many people that get this seem to be low in iron. I had already started taking a multivitamin with iron. The medication cleared it up but it continually comes back. I would really like to get rid of it for good. I take Vitamin B Complex every morning and a multivitamin with iron at night.
“I have tried all kinds of “remedies” including: apple cider vinegar on the corners of my mouth, Mentholatum on them, changing my toothbrush and my toothpaste, using moisturizer on my lips, cold sore medication, and anything else I’ve read. This condition is miserable and I would love to get rid of it permanently.”
“I had the same problem & found that each morning I could put rubbing alcohol on a tissue and blot each mouth corner and I still do this 1 or 2 times a week & have had no re-occurrence in the last 4-5 years.”
“Several decades ago, my grandmother suffered from cracked skin at the corners of her mouth. She was found to be deficient in riboflavin, as I recall.”
“I used to have this all the time until I started using the cracks as a indicator that I needed more Vit B – now if cracks start to develop I take one “balanced B” vitamin and by the next day the cracks are either gone or on their way out.”
“Suggestion: put on Listerine (or Vicks VapoRub – outside/external area) mouth wash several time a day on the craks. It is both antifungal and antibacterial. After a week or so the problem should be gone.”
“I tried many lip soothers, sticks, and balms, for months to heal chapped, cracked lips. I even got a prescription for Duke’s ‘Magic Mouthwash.’ Nothing completely healed my lips. I read your newspaper article about Mentholatum ointment and I tried it on my cracked, chapped, sore lower lip for about a week. It healed it and the lip looks and feels normal.”
“I asked my dentist to prescribe something after suffering for a couple of weeks with cracks in the corner or my mouth. I had been using Aquaphor a medicated salve. He prescribed an anti fungal cream. So the Listerine and Vicks sound like a good answer. I take a multi B vitamin every day so don’t think I have a deficiency.”
“I don’t have any immune problems and am a 31-yr-old healthy individual. I however occasionally suffer from angular cheilitis (I’ve had 3 episodes in the last 3 or 4 years). I think I am just prone to this type of fungal infection.
By sheer luck and experimentation I learned that applying old-fashioned amber Listerine to the affected area helps clear up the problem within a few days. I once got a prescription for anti-fungal cream from a doctor and Listerine even outperformed that!”
If you would like to learn more about vitamin D and the way to test for deficiency of this nutrient and optimal levels to take, we offer our Guide to Vitamin D Deficiency. It is available for download for $2. You may also find our Guide to Unique Uses of Vicks of value.
We would love to hear your story about tips for healing dry lips and angular cheilitis. You can comment below so others can benefit from your experience.