Updated: Jun 26
Mouth ulcers are typically small painful lesions seen inside the oral cavity and tongue. They can make eating, drinking, and talking uncomfortable. Mouth ulcers, which include canker sores, are small sores that develop within the mouth. There are no definite causes of mouth ulcers, but some injuries, allergies, or sensitivities may trigger them.
Mouth ulcers are rarely contagious and usually go away after 1 to 2 weeks, even without treatment. If you get a large mouth ulcer, that is extremely painful or lasts for a long time without healing, seek the advice of a doctor urgently. There’s no definite cause behind mouth ulcers, but certain risk factors and triggers have been identified. People assigned females at birth, children, adolescents, and those with a family history of mouth ulcers have a higher risk of developing them.
minor mouth injury from dental work, hard brushing, sports injury, or an accidental bite
an allergic response to oral bacteria
bacterial, viral, or fungal infections in the mouth, such as hand, foot, and mouth disease
sensitivities to acidic foods and beverages like strawberries, citrus fruits, pineapple, chocolate, and coffee
certain nutrient deficiencies, especially vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin B12, Zinc, and iron
hormonal changes, such as those that occur during menstruation or pregnancy
lack of sleep
Mouth ulcers can also be a sign of conditions that are more serious and require medical treatment, such as:
inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis
some autoimmune diseases, including:
oral lichen planus
Behçet’s disease, a rare condition that causes inflammation throughout the blood vessels
Mouth ulcer symptoms
Symptoms of mouth ulcers may vary depending on their cause, but they typically include:
painful sores that may be yellow, white, or red
sores on the inside of the mouth, such as on your tongue or the insides of your cheeks or lips
areas of redness surrounding the sores
pain that worsens when you eat, drink, or talk
You may have more than one mouth ulcer at the same time. Mouth ulcers are not usually contagious unless they’re caused by an infection such as hand, foot, and mouth disease. Canker sores are the most common type of mouth ulcer, with 20% of people having a canker sore at least once. There are three main types of canker sores:
Minor canker sore
Minor canker sores are small oval or round ulcers measuring under 5 millimeters (mm). They heal within 1 to 2 weeks and don’t cause scars.
Major canker sore
Major canker sores are larger and deeper than minor ones. They often measure over 10 mm.
They have irregular edges and can take weeks or months to heal. Major canker sores can result in long-term scarring.
Herpetiform canker sore
Herpetiform canker sores are pinpoint-sized, occur in clusters, and often appear on the tongue. Sometimes the clusters can merge to form one large sore.
Herpetiform canker sores have irregular edges and often heal, without scarring, within 1 month.
They’re called “herpetiform” because they may resemble the sores caused by herpes. Herpetiform canker sores are not otherwise associated with herpes infection.
Treatment options for mouth ulcers are -
If you get mouth ulcers often or they’re extremely painful, several treatments and home remedies can decrease pain and healing time. These include:
covering the ulcer with a paste made from baking soda
using other topical pastes
placing milk of magnesia on the ulcer
using a mouth rinse made from salt water and baking soda
Use a mouth rinse that contains a steroid to reduce pain and swelling
applying ice to the ulcer
placing a damp tea bag on the ulcer
taking supplements if you have deficiencies in certain nutrients, including vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin B12, zinc, and iron
using over-the-counter topical products that are made with benzocaine, like Orajel and Anbesol
trying natural remedies, such as echinacea, myrrh, and licorice root (may come in various forms, like teas or oils)
How to prevent mouth ulcers
You can take these steps to help reduce the occurrence of mouth ulcers:
Avoid foods that irritate your mouth. That includes acidic fruits, nuts, chips, and anything spicy. Instead, choose whole grains and nonacidic fruits and vegetables. Eat a well-balanced diet and consider taking a daily multivitamin.
Try to avoid talking while you’re chewing your food to reduce accidental bites.
Reduce your stress.
Maintain good oral hygiene by flossing daily and brushing after meals.
Avoid hard-bristled toothbrushes and mouthwashes containing sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or alcohol.
Ask your dentist to give you wax to cover dental or orthodontic mouth devices that have sharp edges.
Get adequate sleep and rest. This will not only prevent mouth ulcers but a host of other illnesses as well.
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