cracks in the corners of the mouth

Have you ever been troubled with cracks in the corners of the mouth? Many people have. When tracking down the cause of this condition (also called angular cheilitis or perlèche), you may wish to consider vitamin deficiency or an infection. Some people suffer repeated fungal infections that make the cracks in the corners of the mouth red and sore.

Athlete’s Foot Cream for Angular Cheilitis:

Q. I use over-the-counter athlete’s foot cream from the dollar store as an overnight remedy for cracks in the corners of the mouth. I finally figured this out for myself after many years of relying upon lip balm alone.

A. You are describing angular cheilitis (AKA perlèche). It is sometimes caused by moisture trapped in the corners of the mouth. This can lead to overgrowth of fungus. That’s why an antifungal cream for athlete’s foot can sometimes help this condition.

Deficiencies as a Cause:

This painful and unsightly condition can also be caused by nutritional deficiencies. You should be checked to see whether you are getting enough B vitamins, iron and zinc.

Barbara left this comment:

“I used to get cracks in the corners of my mouth. Very painful. I was told it was a vitamin B deficiency. Since I started taking vitamin B supplements, I haven’t had even ONE crack.”

Are You Inadvertently Causing the Cracks in the Corners of the Mouth?

Occasionally, people discover that they are using a product that contributes to symptoms of angular cheilitis. One reader wrote to us about toothpaste.

Q. Many years ago I had severely cracked corners of my mouth. It really made my mouth sore.

I discovered quite by accident that it was caused by an ingredient in the toothpaste I was using. When I changed brands the problem disappeared.

Many Causes of Angular Cheilitis:

A. Angular cheilitis (perlèche) is the term doctors give to painful cracks in the corners of the mouth. They can be triggered by a reaction to chemicals in sunscreen, cinnamon or toothpaste.

Betty reported:

“I tend to suffer from these cracks as well. Many toothpastes make my mouth burn, so I know I am sensitive to them. I now use just plain Colgate which seems to be ok. But I still occasionally get these cracks, so I have found that dabbing Listerine on them will clear them up quickly.”

Sherri noted:

“After having the cracks and roughness at the corners of my mouth for a while, my dermatologist told me to stop using toothpaste with a tartar control element. He suggested Arm & Hammer. He mentioned that lots of folks are allergic the tartar control ingredient. I followed his advice and no more cracks.”

Cindy found that toothpaste with SLS caused her problems:

“Have had ulcers in mouth, on & around lips for years. Seems like when one would just heal, another would appear somewhere else. Heard Dr. Oz casually mention that some people may be allergic to SLS (Sodium Laryl Sulfate) in toothpaste. I changed toothpaste – no more ulcers.

“Then I got to thinking about my years of complexion problems (80 yr old) – was using Neutrogena to cleanse face at the time (had tried many). Sure ’nuff its in most cleansing products! Like magic, first time ever, my skin completely cleared up when I limited my use to non-SLS products!! Used an older hand lotion with out checking and hands turned red, and became very swollen – yep, SLS.”

Mary agreed:

“Yes, toothpaste can make your mouth sore! Especially if you have a dry mouth, as in Sjogren’s Syndrome. I’ve experimented with various toothpastes and found that those that contain SLS (sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate) not only make my mouth sore/burning, but also cause the skin (mucosa?) inside my mouth to slough off in small white sheets. Another ingredient in toothpaste can also cause burning in my mouth: mint flavoring. Again, for me, this is due to my Sjogren’s Syndrome dry mouth.”

Coconut Oil Made a Difference:

This doesn’t work for everyone, of course.

We heard, however, from a mother who found a different approach to treating her daughter’s perlèche:

“My seven-year-old has had this condition for well over a year. Sometimes it seemed to get better, but would always return.

A doctor told her to put Vaseline on it, but it just made it worse. Her dentist thought it was a vitamin or iron deficiency causing it, and this makes sense since her diet is poor. She is a picky eater.

“On a whim, we decided to try putting coconut oil on it twice a day, after brushing. I’d read up on the many benefits of coconut oil being anti-viral, anti bacterial, etc…

“The lesions started healing right away. If she doesn’t apply it, however, it seems to return, so we make sure to reapply twice a day. It has now been perhaps 3 months doing this, and the lesions are 95% healed. Until she starts eating better, we’ll continue applying the oil.”

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  1. Carole
    Sydney, Australia

    B2, aka Riboflavin, is the specific B vitamin. It is an almost instant cure. 2 tablets and 12 hours later, gone. Eat liver! Nystatin is the cream of choice for fungal infection. It seems to occur in kids that are going thru a growth spurt particularly.

  2. Pat

    If your 7 year old daughter responded well to Coconut oil, applied to the corners of her mouth perhaps using coconut oil in foods that she does eat, might be beneficial. For instance, fry potatoes for french fries or cook her burger in it instead of other fat. You could also add to a hot veggie instead of butter for flavor.

  3. Cathy

    I went to my PCP with the cracking in the corner of my mouth. He prescribed a cream that I had to have filled at the pharmacy. Imagine my surprise when I read the label, “diaper cream”. As a former child care provider, I am aware that lots of diaper rashes are caused by a fungal infection. The cream did help, by the way, and cleared up within a couple of weeks. He also recommended a B-complex to be taken at night. Since taking the vitamin complex, I have not had the problem return.

  4. Patty

    I’ve always used a high quality vitamin E oil (like Jason’s) for any skin problem, including fungus, burns, or other. I do use clotrimazole for fungus too, but not near the mouth. The old-time Campho Phenique can work wonders as well. You can still find it online.

  5. Shirley Henderson Colee

    Great article. I had the problem a year or so ago, cracks at the corners of my mouth and irritation of my gums too. I stopped using toothpaste with sodium lauryl sulfonate like some of your other readers. I use simple formulas from the health food store now with no weird chemicals, or just baking soda. I also started oil pulling – swishing my mouth with a tablespoon of coconut oil for 10 to 20 minutes most days. I use shay butter or olive oil or coconut oil based soaps from the health food store on my skin, and a coconut oil moisturizer (it has coconut oil, olive oil and honey, that’s about it). My mouth and the skin at the corners of my mouth are in great shape. I really believe SLS is toxic to many people – and definitely so for me.

  6. Peggy

    The problem could also be an allergy to yeast. I’ve had this condition for many years, but only after some allergy testing did I realize that yeast was the problem. Unfortunately, this required giving up all foods with yeast, like vinegar ( which is in nearly every salad dressing, condiment, pickles, etc.).

    • Marla

      Peggy, I just recently found a recipe for a lemon salad dressing that doesn’t contain vinegar. It’s basically equal parts lemon juice and olive oil (adjust the lemon juice and oil ratios to your liking but start out with about 50-50), add in some salt, pepper, basil, thyme and/or other herbs of choice. The recipe called for a little bit of Dijon mustard but you would probably want to leave that out since it has vinegar (or search for a Dijon that doesn’t contain vinegar). My husband who pretty much only likes Thousand Island can’t get enough of the Lemon Dressing.

  7. Linda

    I use sensitive toothpaste for sensitive teeth. It worked well but a whitish slimey mucus appeared an hour or so after brushing as well as the chelitis at lip corners. Switching to Colgate sensitive and using it only once a day. Stopped both. Allergy?

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