Common Oral Lesions

Am Fam Physician. 2022 Apr 1;105(4):369-376.


Familiarity with common oral conditions allows clinicians to observe and treat patients in the primary care setting or refer to a dentist, oral surgeon, otolaryngologist, or other specialist. Recurrent aphthous stomatitis (canker sores) is the most common ulcerative condition of the oral cavity. Recurrent herpes simplex labialis and stomatitis also commonly cause oral ulcers. Corticosteroids, immunocompromise, antibiotics, and dentures can predispose patients to oral candidiasis. Benign migratory glossitis (geographic tongue) occurs in up to 3% of the population but generally lacks symptoms, although some people experience food sensitivity or a burning sensation. Hairy tongue is associated with a low fiber diet, tobacco and alcohol use, and poor oral hygiene in older male patients. Generally, hairy tongue is asymptomatic except for an unattractive appearance or halitosis. Tobacco and alcohol use can cause mucosal changes resulting in leukoplakia and erythroplakia. These can represent precancerous changes and increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma. Mandibular and maxillary tori are common bony cortical outgrowths that require no treatment in the absence of repeat trauma from chewing or interference with dentures. Oral lichen planus occurs in up to 2% of individuals and can present as lacy reticulations or oral erosions and ulcerations. Traumatic buccal mucosal fibromas and labial mucoceles from biting can be excised.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Glossitis, Benign Migratory* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mouth Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Mouth Diseases* / etiology
  • Mouth Diseases* / therapy
  • Mouth Mucosa / pathology
  • Oral Ulcer* / diagnosis
  • Oral Ulcer* / etiology
  • Stomatitis, Aphthous* / complications
  • Stomatitis, Aphthous* / etiology
  • Tongue, Hairy* / complications
  • Tongue, Hairy* / pathology