What are mouth ulcers?
Ulcers are painful sores that occur in the mouth. They are usually harmless and clear up by themselves.
What does a mouth ulcer look like?
Mouth ulcers are mainly round or oval in shape and they can appear on the cheeks, tongue and lips – but not to be confused with a cold sores. Mouth ulcers vary in colours – white, yellow, red and grey.
It is possible to have multiple ulcers at one time.
What causes mouth ulcers?
Most single mouth ulcers are caused by damage to the lining inside of the mouth. For example:
- accidentally biting the inside of your cheek or a sharp tooth
- poorly fitting dentures
- hard food
- a defective filling
It’s not always clear what causes mouth ulcers that keep returning, but triggers are thought to include:
- stress and anxiety
- hormonal changes – some women develop mouth ulcers during their monthly period
- eating certain foods – such as chocolate, spicy foods, coffee, peanuts, almonds, strawberries, cheese, tomatoes and wheat flour
- toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulphate
- stopping smoking – when you first stop smoking, you may develop mouth ulcers
Your genes are also thought to have a role – around 40% of people who keep getting mouth ulcers report that it runs in their family.
How to treat mouth ulcers.
Ulcers tend to clear up on their own within a week or two. Treatments will help to reduce swelling and ease any discomfort that you may have.
You can follow these self care steps to speed up the healing process.
- applying a protective paste recommended by your pharmacist
- using a soft toothbrush to brush your teeth
- using a toothpaste that doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulphate, as this may be irritating
- avoiding hard, spicy, salty, acidic or hot food and drink until the ulcer heals
- using a straw to drink cool drinks
- avoiding things that may be triggering your mouth ulcers
If you have no luck using the above self care tips you can purchase over the counter products from the pharmacy (as per the leaflet states).
- Antimicrobial mouthwash may speed up healing and prevent infection of the ulcer. Children under two shouldn’t use this treatment. It also contains chlorexidine gluconate, which may stain teeth – but this may fade once treatment is finished.
- Painkillers are available as a mouthwash, lozenge, gel or spray. They can sting on first use and your mouth may feel numb – but this is temporary. Mouthwash can be diluted with water if stinging continues. Children under 12 shouldn’t use mouthwash or gel. Mouthwash shouldn’t be used for more than seven days in a row.
- Corticosteroid lozenges may reduce pain and speed up healing. These are best used as soon as the ulcer appears, but shouldn’t be used by children under 12.
In a few cases, mouth ulcers that do not heal (long-lasting) can be a sign of mouth cancer. Ulcers that are caused by mouth cancer usually appear on or under the tongue but can also appear elsewhere in the mouth.
Risk factors for mouth cancer.
- smoking or using products that contain tobacco
- drinking alcohol – smokers who are also heavy drinkers have a much higher risk compared to the population at large
- infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV) – the virus that causes genital warts.
If mouth cancer is detected early then the chances of a complete recovery are good.
Please see your dentist if your mouth ulcer has lasted three weeks, if you get recurrent ulcers or if you ulcer become more painful/red as this could be a sign of a bacterial infection which may need to be treated with antibiotics.
- you keep getting mouth ulcers
- your mouth ulcer becomes more painful or red – this could be a sign of a bacterial infection, which may need treatment with antibiotics.
The Dentist, 57 Liskeard Road, Walsall, WS5 3EY