What’s Causing Those Bizarre, Painful Cracks at the Corners of Your Mouth?

Do you have painful cracks at the corners of your mouth that almost feel like paper cuts? It could be angular cheilitis. I remember the first time I had a bout of it. It hurt to eat and talk, and it looked as though there were two clean slices at the corner of each lip.


At first, I figured I’d irritated my mouth somehow by eating salty chips or spicy salsa, but when the pain got worse, I figured it was somehow related to my gluten intolerance and autoimmune disease.


Sure enough, it was.


Common Symptoms of Angular Cheilitis

It can be easy to mistake angular cheilitis for a cold sore or a canker sore.


However, this particular inflammatory condition has its own unique symptoms that can help you tell them apart from other mouth sores.


  • Pain – There is usually a sharp pain or stinging sensation at the corners of the mouth.
  • Swelling – The area around the splits can be swollen and warm.
  • Blistering – If the splits are irritated further, they may blister.
  • Bleeding – If your lips become too dry, you may experience bleeding.
  • Itching – A strong urge to scratch the area(s) may accompany pain.


Common Causes of Angular Cheilitis

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes a multitude of symptoms ranging from stomach cramping, chronic diarrhea, brain fog, and hair loss, as well as skin problems such as dermatitis and angular cheilitis.


Those with celiac disease are unable to digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When they are exposed to gluten, their immune system reacts as though the protein is a foreign invader and triggers inflammation throughout the body.


According to a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, angular cheilitis is just one of the many cutaneous (skin-related) manifestations of celiac disease.


Nutrient Deficiencies

Nutrient deficiencies are a common problem worldwide. For many Americans, the main cause is a combination of a Standard American Diet (high in processed foods, low in fiber) and gastrointestinal disease (IBS, IBD, Crohn’s, celiac disease).


Digestive issues can prevent your body from absorbing nutrients from food. Plus, if your food is not rich in nutrients to begin with, you’re more likely to have several vitamin and mineral deficiencies.



Two nutrient deficiencies that can cause “paper cuts” in the corners of your mouth are vitamin B6 and iron deficiency.


  • Vitamin B6

Other symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency may include depression, confusion, increased susceptibility to infections, skin rashes, nausea, and anemia.

  • Iron

Other symptoms of iron deficiency can include anemia, chronic fatigue, pale skin, weakness, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, cravings to eat non-food items like dirt, clay, or ice (pica), irregular heartbeat, tingling in extremities, and brittle nails.

According to a published article, approximately one third of people with iron deficiency may develop angular cheilitis.

Autoimmune Disease

Many times, splits in the corners of the mouth indicate autoimmune disease. For example, diabetes, celiac disease, or lupus. Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the cells that make saliva and tears, can result in extremely dry and chapped lips that are vulnerable to Staphylococcal bacterial infection.


According to an article published by The American Academy of Family Physicians, oral manifestations of systemic (system-wide) disease are common but may present differently depending on the type of autoimmune disease.  

Candida Yeast Overgrowth

Candida is a type of yeast that naturally inhabits the digestive and vaginal tract. In small amounts, this yeast is not harmful. However, a poor diet, overuse of antibiotics, extreme stress, and autoimmune disease can cause this yeast to grow out of control and spread throughout the body.


Candida infection is common in those with diabetes, those who are obese, and those who have undergone steroid therapy or chemotherapy.


Other symptoms of chronic candida syndrome include frequent yeast infections, psoriasis, headaches, mood swings, brain fog, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal problems.


If you notice weird cuts at the corners of your mouth, the first thing to do is figure out what’s causing them. Make an appointment with a naturopathic or an integrative medicine physician. Once you know the root cause, you can start using natural treatments to heal angular cheilitis.

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