What Are Mouth Ulcers?

Causes and Treatments for Mouth Ulcers

Mouth Ulcer. Credit: Biophoto Associates / Getty Images

Mouth ulcers—also known as oral ulcers, aphthous ulcers or canker sores—are breaks in the tissue lining of your mouth, often along the base of the gums or inside the cheeks or lips, but can form in the floor of the mouth or on the tongue. They can be painful, annoying and sometimes embarrassing, interfering with eating, drinking, brushing and even talking. They are also very common. The pain from a mouth ulcer is caused because the nerves just below the surface of the lining of the mouth become exposed.

Luckily most mouth ulcers are easy to treat.

Mouth ulcers are usually temporary, healing on their own within 1 to 2 weeks, and harmless (except for pain and inconvenience). If you get mouth ulcers that last longer than 3 weeks, or they recur regularly, you should seek medical attention as it may be a sign of a more serious problem.

Causes of Mouth Ulcers

Mouth ulcers are not contagious. The exact cause of oral ulcers is not known, but there are several factors that are suspected of contributing to their appearance.

  • Trauma or Tissue Damage
    Damage to the mouth lining is common. Damage from vigorous brushing, orthodontic braces, ill-fitting dentures or biting the inside of your mouth can cause a mouth ulcer to form.
  • Infections
    Bacterial, viral or fungal infections may cause mouth ulcers.
  • Stress Related Mouth Ulcers, Aphthous Ulcers
    Most common in teens, stress related mouth ulcers will heal within a couple of weeks. Prevention is by resolving stress related problems or using stress busting relaxation strategies. Hormonal changes and allergic reactions may also cause mouth ulcers.
  • Foods and Drinks
    Mouth ulcers may be triggered by acids in certain foods, including oranges, lemons, pineapples, strawberries, tomatoes and others.
  • Toothpastes or Oral Rinses
    Pastes or rinses that contain sodium lauryl sulfate may contribute to the appearance of mouth ulcers.
  • Vitamin Deficiencies
    A deficiency of vitamins such as B-12, iron, folate or zinc could also be a cause of mouth ulcers.
  • Quitting Smoking
    Immediately after quitting smoking you may get mouth ulcers. This is usually temporary.

Disease Related Mouth Ulcers

There are some serious causes of mouth ulcers. Mouth ulcers can be symptoms of herpes infection, sex-related infection, inflammatory bowel disease, leukoplakia, gingivostomatitis, oral cancer, oral thrush, celiac disease and immune disorders. If mouth ulcers are a symptom of a disease they are usually accompanied by other symptoms in the body, but not always.

Most mouth ulcers last between 1 to 2 weeks. If mouth ulcers do not heal it could be a sign of disease that needs medical attention.

Treatments for Mouth Ulcers

Some treatments will require the removal of the source of the mouth ulcer, such as the treatment of those caused by disease.

For most mouth ulcers treatment is easy and effective.

  • Pain relief creams or ointments such as Orajel or Anbesol.
  • Rinsing the mouth with saltwater and baking soda.
  • Cooling mouth rinses of cold water or applying ice to the ulcer.
  • Cool chamomile tea. Swish it in your mouth and then swallow.

Tips for Preventing Mouth Ulcers

  • Good oral hygiene practices
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Gentle brushing
  • Good intake Vitamin B, C and zinc
  • Avoiding very hot drinks and food
  • Reducing stress

If mouth ulcers do not heal within 2 to 3 weeks it could be a sign of disease that you need medical attention and treatment for. If mouth ulcers recur frequently, are large in size, continue to develop or are painless, see your doctor for advice and a health check up.

Mouth Ulcer Intro Kit

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