In Chinese medicine, mouth sores (whether they are sores on the lips, sores on the tongue, or sores inside the mouth) are trying to warn you that the environment in your body is out of balance. The location of these sores, the frequency that they occur and what triggers them are all clues to the nature of that imbalance. A practitioner of Chinese medicine takes all of this information, along with other signs and symptoms in the body, to correctly diagnose and treat not only the mouth sores, but also address the general constitution of the patient so that the cause of the problem is eliminated.
In Chinese Medicine, the lips are considered part of the Spleen organ system. The health of the Spleen is reflected on the lips. When the function of the Spleen is weak, the lips become vulnerable to damage either from external factors or Heat and Dampness that may lie dormant in the body. There are several patterns of body imbalances that could be the underlying cause of sores on the lips. In all cases, diet and stress reduction need to be part of the long term treatment program.
The first pattern, Wind Damp Heat, is triggered by exposure to environmental factors – sun or dry wind.
The relative influence of the Heat or the Dryness and whether or not Damp already exists in the body will be reflected in the quality of the sores on the lips. If Wind is prevalent, the lips may itch or quiver. If Heat is prevalent, they will be dry, cracked and painful. If Damp is present, there may be blisters and drainage coming from the lip sores. This pattern can be minimized by wearing a lip protecting sunblock.
When the occurrence of sores on the lips becomes chronic, it is probably because there is an underlying existence of Damp Heat in the Spleen and Stomach. This can happen when the diet has too much spicy food, sugar, dairy, alcohol, and coffee. Smoking and irregular eating habits may also create Heat. Damp Heat in the Spleen and Stomach will have other symptoms such as loose or sluggish stools, loss of appetite, nausea, sticky taste in the mouth. This person may be thirsty but not really want to drink. The tongue may be red with a greasy, yellow coating. Sores may take longer to heal.
When outbreaks are initiated by stress, the culprint is most likely related to Liver Qi Stagnation. Liver Qi stagnation occurs when we are under chronic stress or feel frustrated, depressed and angry. This type of person may suffer from migraines, neck and shoulder tension, teeth grinding and poor sleep – waking between one and three in the morning. Women may suffer from PMS. The pulse may have a very typical “guitar string” wiry quality that is associated with Liver Qi stagnation.
When the energy of the Spleen is deficient, the lips fail to be nourished. A person with Spleen Qi deficiency may have chronic swelling, cracking and bleeding of both lips. They may also have a poor appetite, sallow complexion, poor muscle tone, fatigue and a tendency to have loose stools. The tongue typically looks pale and swollen and may have tooth marks around the edges. When acupuncture and herbs are used to tonify the Spleen, all of these symptoms may improve along with the frequency of the lip sores.
Sores inside the mouth, in Chinese Medicine, may be related to pathology of the Spleen, the Stomach or the Heart. The mouth in general is the sensory organ that is related to the Spleen and in fact a branch of the Spleen meridian spreads out on the underside of the tongue. The tongue, especially the tip of the tongue, is related to the Heart. The gums and inside of the cheeks are related to the yangming meridians, the Stomach and the Large Intestine.
When diagnosing the pattern of disharmony related to these mouth sores, one must also distinguish between a condition of deficiency or excess. Excess type mouth sores are usually quite painful, red and inflamed with a thick discharge. They typically flair up and last a short time. They may be accompanied by bad breath, fever and chills, constipation, thirst and irritability. Acute excess types of mouth sores are due to Heat either contracted externally or generated internally. Internal Stomach Heat is aggravated by improper diet. Sores appear on the gums and cheeks and bad breath, hunger and constipation may accompany the sores. Internal Heart Fire is related to emotional upsets. Sores due to Heart fire are usually confined to the tongue. Insomnia and palpitations may accompany these sores.
Chronic, reoccurring sores that heal very slowly are due to a deficiency. This can be a deficiency of Yin, Yang, or Qi and Blood. A yin deficient person usually feels warm and may have hot flashes or night sweats. They may be nervous and forgetful. The tongue is classically cracked and red with no coating. These mouth ulcers are typically on the tongue and are narrow, painful and hot and may take weeks to heal. A yang deficient person is just the opposite. They feel cold and weak and the tongue is puffy and pale. They may have frequent urination and early morning diarrhea. Yang deficient mouth sores are usually found on the gums and inside the cheeks and have very little pain or color associated with them. Mouth sores associated with Qi and Blood deficiency usually show up when the person is overtired or in women following a menstrual period. Other key symptoms are dizziness, shortness of breath and pale complexion and nails.
There are many traditional acupuncture points that are useful to treat mouth sores and they should be selected based on the patterns described above. Master Tung has two acupuncture points that he used for lip sores. Those points are 77.15 (Upper Lip) and 77.16 (Lower Lip). These points are located on the lower lateral ridge of the patella, on the patellar ligament, below ST35. Master Tung would bleed these points until dark red blood appeared to treat lip problems.
Many herbal formulas are available to treat the constitution of the patient based on the Chinese Medicine diagnosis. These formulas should not be taken without the proper evaluation of a practitioner who is trained in Chinese herbology. There is one herbal product, Xi Gua Shuang, Watermelon Frost, that can be useful as a topical treatment for all acute flare-ups. This product comes in powder, spray and lozenge form. Yin-Care also has a mouth wash product that can be used for sores in the mouth. Yin-Care contains herbs that drain Damp and Damp Heat.
Chinese Medicine can help restore the balance in the body that will greatly reduce or eliminate the frequency of mouth sores. Don’t ignore the warnings coming from your own mouth!
About the Author:
Joyce Marley is a licensed acupuncturist who provides acupuncture therapy in New Hartford, NY. She writes Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) health articles about acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.