7 Reasons The Skin Inside Your Mouth Is Peeling Off

Skin Inside Your Mouth Is Peeling Off

Do you notice oral tissue sloughing or peeling skin in your mouth? Any time we see skin inside of the mouth peeling, we usually need to use a process of elimination to figure out what’s causing it. Areas like your lips, roof of mouth, or inside cheek peeling can be due to anything from active ingredients (SLS) in toothpaste to allergic reactions to undiagnosed diseases. Some are more common than you might expect. Once you start paying a little more attention to what you’re putting on your teeth, gums, and other warning signs, it’s a lot easier to figure out why you have skin peeling inside the mouth.

What Causes Tissue Sloughing In The Mouth? 

One of the top causes of inside cheek peeling is “SLS” or sodium lauryl sulfate. SLS is a common ingredient in a lot of toothpaste blends because of the way it helps hold all of the other ingredients together.[1] SLS also causes a foaming action, which makes some toothpastes a bit more bubbly and foamy than others. On a microscopic level, SLS is also an irritant. Some people are more sensitive to certain irritants than others, with SLS being one of the top offenders.

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People who tend to have sensitive skin or react to SLS usually see inside of mouth peeling after a while. Not necessarily if they’re using general products that contain SLS, but if they’re putting it in their mouth in the form of toothpaste.

SLS isn’t the only cause of skin peeling inside the mouth, but it is one of the very first things your dentist or hygienist will ask about if you’re complaining of sloughing skin. Generally, oral mucosal peeling can be anywhere like the inside of your lips or cheeks. Whereas other types of skin peeling may only be in certain areas of your mouth.

7 Causes Of Skin Peeling Inside The Mouth

1) It’s Your Toothpaste

Major toothpaste brands like Crest, Colgate, AquaFresh, and Pepsodent have SLS as an active ingredient. But that doesn’t mean every single blend of their products does. You can still read the labels to find certain ones that are free of SLS.[2] Sensodyne generally doesn’t have SLS, which is fitting since it’s recommended for people with sensitive mouths.

The easiest way to figure out if it’s the SLS that’s causing skin peeling inside the mouth is to stop using that toothpaste and use one that doesn’t have the ingredient. After a couple of weeks, evaluate your mouth to see if there’s a difference. It there is, it’s likely the sodium lauryl sulfate. If it isn’t, you’re about to do a bit more detective work!

2) Food Allergies

Are you eating a highly acidic diet? It could be irritating the mucous membranes inside your mouth. Other times, people develop food allergies as they get older. Even though food allergies don’t typically cause your skin to peel, they can cause redness and dry patches similar to eczema. A rash around your mouth and face is also common.

According to the Mayo Clinic[3], some of the most common foods to develop an allergy to as you age include things like seafood, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts. Severe food allergies can cause anaphylaxis, but a mild allergic reaction could be isolated to just the inside of your mouth when the food comes into contact with your lips and cheeks.

3) Oral Trauma

How many times have you ever burned your mouth on a piece of pizza? It’s more common than you probably thought. Usually, food burns happen in the roof of your mouth, where that hot gooey cheese gets stuck to your palate. After a day or two, the skin there starts to peel.

Other oral trauma is poking or cutting the inside of your mouth with a tortilla chip. No, I’m not making this up. We see it all the time in the dental office. As your gums start to heal in those spaces, there’s usually a little peeling.

These are just a couple of examples of oral trauma. Sporting accidents, car wrecks, and other injuries can also be to blame.

4) Oral Thrush

Thrush—or “candidiasis”—is a type of a yeast infection. It’s common in people who are taking a lot of antibiotics, are immunocompromised, or have an undiagnosed systemic disease. If you know you’re going to be taking antibiotics, it can be helpful to eat yogurt or take dental probiotics to reduce your chances of developing oral thrush.[4] This tip also works for people who are undergoing cancer therapy or are immunocompromised. Chronic oral thrush can be managed with topical steroid creams or other prescription drugs from your dentist or primary care physician.

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A typical thrush outbreak will have white residue that can be wiped away, revealing red, raw skin underneath. It might be in the roof of your mouth or just inside your cheeks.

Thrush can also be seen under oral appliances like dentures and partials when they aren’t cleaned properly.

5) You’re Biting Your Cheeks

Some of us tend to clench and bite our teeth so much that we catch the inside of our cheeks in the process. Like a callous, our mouth can develop roughened skin where irritation is always occurring. You might see the peeling skin in a straight line inside your cheek, right where your teeth hit together. In some cases, there is even a scalloped shape to it, based on the biting edges of your smile.

Cheek biting may be habitual or because of stress and concentration. Chances are you probably don’t even realize you’re doing it. You might need to address whatever you’re focusing on or stressing over first!


6) Stevens-Johnson Syndrome

This super-rare skin disease causes the skin to blister, die, and peel off. It spreads quickly and is extremely painful. Typically, someone with SJS will react to a medication, which sets off their symptoms. The skin disorder usually accompanies flu-like symptoms in addition to peeling skin.[5] After several days the reaction will start to heal.

If you have SJS, the most common places to see skin peeling is around your face and chest. It’s also sometimes called “toxic epidermal necrolysis.” The good news is that it’s not contagious since it’s an autoimmune disorder.

7) Oral Keratosis

Remember the cheek biting mentioned above? It’s basically oral keratosis. But cheek biting isn’t the only thing that can cause keratosis[6]. You’ll see it any time there’s friction of something rubbing over and over on the inside of your mouth. A classic example is orthodontic appliances! At first the inside of your lips and cheeks will be extremely sensitive to the brackets, but the longer you have braced the better they’ll toughen up to them.

You can also see keratosis on the sides of your tongue if you’re biting your tongue or grinding your teeth at night while you sleep.

If your keratosis is caused by something like a temporary dental crown or a rough margin on a filling, your dentist will want to adjust it to eliminate the irritating edge.  

What To Do If The Inside Of Your Mouth Is Peeling?

Do you need to call a dentist about skin peeling inside the mouth? Not if it’s something isolated and temporary, like a pizza burn. But if something in your mouth is hurting you—like a filling or braces—you’ll definitely want to have your dentist adjust it to eliminate the irritant at the source.

For chronic peeling skin that doesn’t respond to changing up your toothpastes, be sure to bring the issue up to your dentist at your checkup. It’s best to be on the safe side. Although peeling skin may not be anything serious, it’s important to rule out oral cancer or autoimmune diseases that you might not know you have. Yes - your dentist knows how to screen for those symptoms too!

How To Prevent It 

Most inside cheek peeling can be avoided by changing your toothpaste. Pick a brand that doesn’t have sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) such as Sensodyne or something similar. Use it every day for two weeks—which is usually all the time your mouth needs to heal—and then see if there’s a difference. If your oral mucosal peeling improved, then you likely have an SLS sensitivity.[7]

Any time you’re about to take antibiotics, make sure you’re getting good bacteria in your diet. Such as yogurt or a yogurt-based live culture drink. Taking them alongside your prescription can help you reduce your chances of getting oral thrush, as will improved oral hygiene! Denture wearers: be sure you’re removing your prosthesis each night and cleaning it (and your mouth) effectively.

When To Talk To A Dentist 

Dentists are doctors of the mouth. They’re trained in oral and systemic pathology, not just teeth! If you have skin peeling inside the mouth, a dentist is one of your best health resources.

If you aren’t already, make sure you’re seeing your dentist every six months for a checkup. But if you’re experiencing a one-off flareup of skin peeling in your lips and cheeks, ask for a limited exam. This brief evaluation will give you time to discuss a specific problem with your dentist, have them evaluate it, and run any tests if needed. Sometimes the peace of mind is all you need!

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