You may be suffering from an uncomfortable cracking of the skin at the corners of the mouth. This condition is known as perleche (or angular cheilitis). From the French word “lecher” (“to lick”), it derives its name from the tendency of sufferers to lick the affected areas.
There are a number of causes for perleche. It’s found most often in children who drool during sleep, or in teenagers or young adults wearing braces. Older adults develop perleche due to the wrinkling of skin caused by aging; and anyone can develop the condition from environmental factors like cold, dry weather. Conditions from within the mouth may also be a cause: inadequate saliva flow; inflammation caused by dentures; or tooth loss that diminishes facial support and puts pressure on the skin at the corners of the mouth. Systemic conditions such as anemia, diabetes or cancer can dry out oral tissues and membranes, which may lead to perleche.
Our first priority is to treat any underlying infection. Cracked mouth corners are easily infected, most commonly from yeast called candida albicans. The infection may range from minor discomfort localized in the affected area to painful infections that involve the entire mouth and possibly the throat. Any of these can be treated with an oral or topical anti-fungal medication, including anti-fungal ointments applied directly to the corners of the mouth until the infection clears up. Chlorhexidine mouth rinses can also be used to treat minor yeast infections.
As for healing the cracked skin, a steroid ointment for control of inflammation combined with a zinc oxide paste or ointment will serve as an antifungal barrier while the tissues heal. If the condition is related to missing teeth or dentures, we can take steps to replace those teeth or ensure the dentures are fitting properly. Good oral health also goes a long way in preventing further reoccurrence of perleche, as well as dermatological techniques to remove deep wrinkles due to aging.
If you would like more information on perleche and other mouth sore issues, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”