Healthy Living

What are mouth ulcers?

What are mouth ulcers?

What are mouth ulcers?

Mouth ulcers are painful sores that occur in the mouth. They are benign and disappear on their own and usually do not require any need to visit a doctor. Everyone develops mouth ulcers in some stage of their lives. Continue to read this article to learn everything about mouth ulcers including their causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. Mouth ulcers are a loss of continuity in the mucosal tissue that lines your mouth. They are round or oval in shape and usually appear over the cheeks, lips or tongue. They can appear as red, white, yellow or green. You may develop either one mouth ulcer, or more than one at a time. It is possible for these mouth ulcers to grow and spread to other areas of the mouth. This is a very common condition encountered by almost everyone at some stage in their lives. Mouth ulcers are very uncomfortable and sometimes very painful but they disappear on their own within a matter of few days.

Sometimes, mouth ulcers are confused with cold sores. Cold sores are tiny blisters that typically develop over the lips and around the mouth. Cold sores usually follow a tingling, itching or burning sensation around the mouth. By this you can differentiate a cold sore from a mouth ulcer quite easily.

What are the causes of mouth ulcers?

Most cases of mouth ulcers do not have a clear cause. However, there are several causes that are identified to cause mouth ulcers in an individual, out of which mechanical trauma within the mouth itself is the most common cause.

  • Mechanical trauma within the mouth – Damage from accidental biting of the tongue, cheeks or lips, damage by the tooth brush while brushing teeth, poorly fitting dentures,  continuous ribbing of the dentures or braces against your tongue and lips and trauma following a dental procedure are all some examples of mechanical trauma within the mouth. These injuries can damage your lips, cheeks and tongue leading to the formation of rather uncomfortable mouth ulcers.
  • Poor oral hygiene also can contribute to the development of mouth ulcers.
  • Eating hot and spicy foods can burn your lips, cheeks and tongues thus contributing to the formation of mouth ulcers.
  • Drugs such as chemotherapeutic agents can also give rise to mouth ulcers.
  • Stopping smoking – If you just gave up tobacco smoking, then it is possible for you to develop mouth ulcers. However, they will disappear on their own after a few days.
  • Genetic predisposition


What are the signs and symptoms of mouth ulcers?

There are three types of mouth ulcers. They are:

  1. Minor mouth ulcers
  2. Major mouth ulcers
  3. Herpetiform mouth ulcers


Minor mouth ulcers – These are small one or two oval ulcers that usually heal within a day or two without any scarring.

Major mouth ulcers - These ulcers are deeper and larger than minor ones. Their edges are irregular and may take up to about 6 weeks to heal. Major mouth ulcers usually heal with scarring.

Herpetiform ulcers – These ulcers are multiple in number and have the size of a pinhead. They usually appear in clusters of 10 to 100. They also heal without scarring and often disappear within a one to two weeks.

When should you visit a doctor?

You should consult your doctor if you develop any of the features mentioned below.

  • If your mouth ulcers appear to be unusually large
  • If your mouth ulcers persist for more than 3 weeks
  • If you develop new mouth ulcers, even before the old ones heal
  • If your mouth ulcers are not painful
  • If you have difficulty eating and drinking.
  • If the mouth ulcers are associated with high fever or diarrhoea
  • If the mouth ulcers extend to your lips
  • If your pain cannot be controlled with over the counter medications or natural remedies


How are mouth ulcers diagnosed?

Diagnosis of mouth ulcers is purely clinical. Your doctor will examine your mouth and will diagnose mouth ulcers but they may order different tests in order to find out the underlying condition. Always visit a doctor for an exact diagnosis.


How are mouth ulcers treated?

Mouth ulcers usually go away on their own, or maybe within a few days or few weeks and hence usually do not need any treatment. However, if these mouth ulcers are extremely painful and are affecting you so much, there are several methods available to reduce the pain as well as their healing time.

These include:

  • Rinsing your mouth with salt water and baking soda.
  • Apply some ice over your mouth ulcers
  • Place damp tea bags over your mouth ulcers
  • You can use over the counter pain killers such as topical anaesthetics like Benzocaine to reduce the pain.
  • Try some natural home remedies such as chamomile tea, myrhh and licorice
  • Take nutritional supplements such as folic acid, vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and zinc.

Can you prevent the development of mouth ulcers?

The following steps can be taken to prevent the development of mouth ulcers in the future.

  • Avoid foods that might irritate your mouth – Foods such as hot and spicy meals and fruits like pine apple, grapes, oranges and other citrus fruits can irritate your mouth. So it is better that you avoid them. Instead consume whole grains and nonacidic fruits and vegetables. Choose your meals wisely and at the same time make sure you take a health balanced diet rich in all natural vitamins.
  • Do not talk while you eat. This is because the risk of biting your own mouth is high when you talk while you eat.
  • If you are stressed about something, find an outlet to reduce your stress. Avoid stressors in your life as it may also increase the risk of mouth ulcers.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene – Brush your teeth regularly after meals and before you go to bed.
  • Get adequate sleep.