What is a mouth ulcer?
Mouth ulcer is normally small, painful lesions that develop in the mouth or at the base of the gums. They are also known as canker sores. They are mostly harmless, however, they can make eating, drinking, and talking uncomfortable.
There are three main types of mouth ulcer:
- Minor Ulcers: These are small oval or round ulcers that heal within one to two weeks with no scarring.
- Major Ulcers: These are larger and deeper than minor ones. They have irregular edges and can take up to six weeks to heal. These ulcers can result in long-term scarring.
- Herpetiform ulceration: These ulcers are pinpoint-sized and have irregular edges. They occur in clusters and often heal without scarring within one or two weeks.
Mouth Ulcer symptoms
Mouth ulcer symptoms depend on the type of ulcer. Symptoms of major and minor ulcers include:
- One or more painful sores that may appear on the cheeks, the roof of the mouth, or the tongue.
- The appearance of round lesions that have red edges and are yellow, white, or gray in the middle.
Herpetiform ulceration lesions may:
- Appear as extremely painful ulcers in the mouth
- Recur very quickly, so infections are seen continuous
- Increase in size, eventually coming together to form a large, ragged ulcer
- Take 10 or more days to heal
- Appear anywhere in the mouth
During more extreme outbreaks of mouth ulcers, some people may experience
- Swollen glands
Who is at risk?
A person is more likely to have mouth ulcers if they:
- Are a smoker
- Have a nutritional deficiency
- Have an underlying medical condition
- Are on other medications and painkillers
Mouth ulcer causes
While the exact reasons for mouth ulcers aren’t known, there are some common causes and factors that may be deemed as mouth ulcer causes since they aggravate the condition. They are:
- Quitting smoking
- Citrus fruits and other foods high in acidity and spice
- Biting the tongue or inside of the cheek
- Braces, poorly fitting dentures, and other apparatus that may rub against the mouth and gums.
- A deficient filling
- Stress or anxiety
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy, puberty, and menopause
- Medications including beta-blockers and painkillers
- Genetic factors
- A different medical condition or nutritional deficiency such as celiac or Crohn’s disease, vitamin B12 or iron deficiency, or a weakened immune system.
How is a mouth ulcer diagnosed?
Mouth ulcer diagnosis is usually done by a mouth ulcer doctor through visual examination. If you’re having frequent, extreme mouth ulcers, the doctor might test you for other medical conditions.
To find out the cause of mouth ulcers, your dentist or oral medicine specialist may order blood tests if they suspect you may have an underlying deficiency (such as an iron or vitamin B deficiency) or an inflammatory condition.
If the doctor cannot determine the cause of your mouth ulcers, or if the ulcers do not respond to the normal treatments, you may have to undergo mouth ulcer test like a biopsy of part of the ulcer and some of the surrounding tissue to look for the existence of a more serious condition.
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How is mouth ulcer treated?
In many cases, the pain and discomfort due to mouth ulcers will lessen and disappear in a few days with no treatment.
For people with more painful and frequently recurring mouth ulcers, the dentist may prescribe a mouth ulcer cure like an antimicrobial mouthwash or medicine for mouth ulcer like an ointment to be directly applied on the infected patch to reduce the swelling and pain. These can help in easing discomfort.
Other mouth ulcer treatment options include:
- Avoid spicy and sour foods until the ulcers heal.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Regularly rinse your mouth out with warm, slightly salted water.
- Keep your mouth clean.
- Take pain-relieving medication, such as paracetamol.
- Apply antiseptic gel to the ulcers.
- Use an alcohol-free medicated mouthwash containing chlorhexidine gluconate.
- Use a topical steroid mouthwash or ointment – generally prescribed by your dentist or oral medicine specialist.
- If required, use immunosuppressant medication as prescribed by your oral health professional. (This is required, rarely, for severe oral ulceration.)
How can mouth ulcers be prevented?
Suggestions on the prevention of mouth ulcer and reducing the likelihood of mouth ulcers include:
- Brush your teeth gently with a soft toothbrush, taking care not to slip with the brush.
- Eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet.
- Try to make sure that underlying medical conditions are well-controlled.