Mouth ulcers — also
known as canker sores — are normally small, painful lesions that develop in
your mouth or at the base of your gums. They can make eating, drinking, and
talking uncomfortable. Women (more than men), adolescents, and people with a
family history of mouth ulcers are at higher risk for developing mouth ulcers.
Mouth ulcers aren’t
contagious and usually go away within one to two weeks. However, if you get a
canker sore that is large or extremely painful or if it lasts for a long time
without healing, you should seek the advice of a doctor.
There is no
definite cause behind mouth ulcers. However, certain factors and triggers have
been identified. These include:
- minor mouth injury from dental work, hard
brushing, sports injury, or accidental bite
- toothpastes and mouth rinses that contain
sodium lauryl sulfate
- food sensitivities to acidic foods like
strawberries, citrus, and pineapples, and other trigger foods like chocolate
- lack of essential vitamins, especially B-12,
zinc, folate, and iron
- allergic response to mouth bacteria
- dental braces
- hormonal changes during menstruation
- emotional stress or lack of sleep
- bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
Mouth ulcers also
can be a sign of conditions that are more serious and require medical
treatment, such as:
- celiac disease (a condition in which the
body is unable to tolerate gluten)
- inflammatory bowel disease
- diabetes mellitus
- Bechet’s disease (a condition that causes
inflammation throughout the body)
- a malfunctioning immune system that causes
your body to attack the healthy mouth cells instead of viruses and bacteria
Are Associated with Mouth Ulcers?
There are three
types of canker sores: minor, major, and herpetiform.
Minor canker sores
are small oval or round ulcers that heal within one to two weeks with no
Major canker sores
are larger and deeper than minor ones. They have irregular edges and can take
up to six weeks to heal. Major mouth ulcers can result in long-term scarring.
sores are pinpoint size, occur in clusters of 10 to 100, and often affect
adults. This type of mouth ulcer has irregular edges and will often heal
without scarring within one to two weeks.
You should see a doctor
if you develop any of the following:
- unusually large mouth ulcers
- new mouth ulcers before the old ones heal
- sores that persist more than three weeks
- sores that are painless
- mouth ulcers that extend to the lips
- pain that can’t be controlled with
over-the-counter or natural medication
- severe problems eating and drinking
- high fever or diarrhea whenever the canker
How Are Mouth Ulcers Diagnosed?
Your doctor will be
able to diagnose mouth ulcers through a visual exam. If you’re having frequent,
severe mouth ulcers, you might be tested for other medical conditions.
Some Ways to Treat Mouth Ulcers?
Most mouth ulcers
don’t need treatment. However, if you get mouth ulcers often or they’re
extremely painful, a number of treatments can decrease pain and healing time.
- using a rinse of saltwater and baking soda
- placing milk of magnesia on the mouth ulcer
- covering mouth ulcers with baking soda paste
- using over-the-counter benzocaine (topical
anesthetic) products like Orajel or Anbesol
- applying ice to canker sores
- using mouth rinse that contains a steroid to
reduce pain and swelling
- using topical pastes
- placing damp tea bags on your mouth ulcer
- taking nutritional supplements like folic
acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and zinc
- trying natural remedies such as chamomile
tea, echinacea, myrrh, and licorice
Prevent Mouth Ulcers
You can take steps to
reduce the occurrence of mouth ulcers. Avoiding foods that irritate your mouth
can be helpful. That includes acidic fruits like pineapple, grapefruit,
oranges, or lemon, as well as nuts, chips, or anything spicy. Instead, choose
whole grains and alkaline (nonacidic) fruits and vegetables. Eat a healthy,
well-balanced diet and take a daily multi-vitamin.
Try to avoid
talking while you’re chewing your food to reduce accidental bites. Reducing
stress and maintaining good oral hygiene by using dental floss daily and
brushing after meals also may help. Finally, get adequate sleep and rest. This
not only will prevent mouth ulcers, but a host of other illnesses as well.
Some people find avoiding
soft bristle toothbrushes and mouthwashes that contain sodium lauryl sulfate
also helps. Your dentist can give you wax to cover dental or orthodontic mouth
devices that have sharp edges.