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What Causes Mouth Ulcers?

What Causes Mouth Ulcers?

Mouth ulcers are a common oral health problem that affects people of all ages. These painful sores develop on soft tissues such as your tongue, gum tissue, lips or on the roof of your mouth. Some of the most common causes include viral infections, certain medical conditions, nutritional deficiencies, and trauma to the mouth.

In this article, we will explore these and other potential causes of mouth ulcers in greater detail, as well as the treatments and preventive measures that can help alleviate mouth ulcers.

Do I Have a Mouth Ulcer?

A mouth ulcer appears in a circular shape and can vary in size and colour. The most common form of mouth ulcer is a canker sore. These sores can occur as a single sore or in clusters. They are most commonly found at the base of the gums and have a red or yellowish colour.

Aphthous ulcers are another common form of mouth ulcer. These are typically caused by an injury or trauma to the tissue and can be found on any area of soft tissue inside the mouth. A classic example is an irritation caused by orthodontic appliances or biting down on something sharp.

Cold sores are similar to mouth ulcers. However, they are often found around the outside of the lips. Cold sores usually appear in conjunction with a viral infection or high fever. People prone to cold sores often experience a tingling sensation in the area before the cold sore becomes visible.

While canker sores and aphthous ulcers usually clear up on their own in 7–14 days, you should contact your dentist if you have a mouth ulcer that lasts longer than three weeks. Long-lasting mouth ulcers can be a sign of a more serious health concern.

Mouth Ulcer Symptoms

Mouth ulcers vary in size and present several different symptoms. Multiple ulcers can occur at once in the same area, increasing your level of discomfort. Pain such as burning, tingling or the feeling of sharp needles will draw your attention to your mouth ulcer, making eating difficult. Ulcers can cause swelling of the surrounding soft tissue. Certain foods, such as salty or spicy foods, can cause ulcers to become even more painful or swollen.

Depending on the type of ulcer or canker sore you have, it may vary in size. Most are small and circular with well-defined borders. They may have a white, yellow, or grey layer over the surface.

Sores such as ulcers in your mouth can make eating or brushing your teeth painful. They can also be embarrassing if more noticeable, visible cold sores are on your lips.

Tingling sensations are usually a common symptom of cold sores, which are caused by a virus. These warning signs can help you treat the area earlier to help limit the severity and lifespan of your mouth sore.

Common Mouth Ulcer Causes

There are several risk factors and triggers that may cause an ulcer to occur. Mouth ulcers are most commonly caused by trauma to the soft tissue or some sort of change in the body, such as infection or hormonal changes. Other causes include certain nutritional deficiencies, medications, stress, or anxiety. Some notice that sun exposure or acidic foods make them more prone to developing ulcers.

Irritation or Traumatic Injury: The most common cause of a mouth ulcer is injury or trauma to the soft tissue, such as biting your cheek or injury from your toothbrush. Ill-fitting dentures and orthodontic appliances often cause ulcers due to the constant rubbing that occurs against the soft tissues.

Nutritional Deficiencies: Your nutrition may put you at risk for mouth ulcers. Iron, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B12 deficiency have all been found to cause mouth ulcers in some individuals. Certain foods and beverages, such as salsa, marinara sauce, and citrus fruits, have been known to cause these painful sores because of their high acidity.

Hormones: Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and menopause are known causes of mouth ulcers in some women. Some women also experience gum irritation during menses.

Prescription Drugs: Mouth ulcers can be a side effect of certain medications. If you have recently changed medications and are experiencing mouth ulcers, you should consider contacting your physician.

Stress and Immune Deficiency: Like how your body reacts to hormonal changes, stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep can lead to painful mouth ulcers due to the strain on your immune system.

Viruses: Viral infections such as the common cold, flu, and hand, foot and mouth disease can present ulcers inside and around the mouth. Similarly, viral strands known for causing conditions like chicken pox and shingles can cause painful cold sores on your mouth when they flare up.

Are Mouth Ulcers Contagious?

Mouth ulcers and cold sores are often confused because of their similar symptoms. However, mouth ulcers are not usually contagious unless caused by a contagious infection such as hand, foot and mouth disease. Cold sores, which appear around the outside of the lips, are contagious. Cold sores brought on by a viral infection, such as the herpes simplex virus, can be transmitted to another person by close contact, such as kissing. If you’re experiencing a cold sore, it’s important not to share food or drink with anyone, especially if there are visible blisters.

Mouth sores caused by irritants such as citrus fruit or wearing braces are not contagious. Kissing and sharing food with your family is safe if you are experiencing one of these small types of ulcers.

Why Do I Keep Getting Mouth Ulcers?

Mouth ulcers can become frequent if the cause of the ulcer is not prevented or addressed. Continued irritation trauma, vitamin deficiencies, and hormone imbalance may be the reason for recurring mouth ulcers or canker sores.

Recurring or long-lasting mouth ulcers can also signify a systemic illness. Certain diseases, such as Lupus and Crohn’s, can present symptoms such as large, chronic mouth ulcers. If you have a mouth ulcer that is extremely large or does not heal on its own, contact your dentist or medical doctor.

If you frequently get mouth ulcers or your sores last longer than two weeks, speak with a dentist or medical professional. It could be that diagnostic testing, lab work, or a biopsy is needed to confirm the diagnosis of your mouth sores. Sores that do not heal could be a warning sign of something more serious, such as oral cancer.

What is the Best Mouth Ulcer Treatment?

While most mouth ulcers will typically heal on their own, there are treatment options to quicken healing time and relieve the pain associated with the ulcer.

Over-the-counter treatments for mouth sores may include topical pastes and antiseptic gels. There are also effective home remedies to relieve discomfort from mouth sores, such as covering the ulcer with a paste made from baking soda or placing milk of magnesia on the ulcer. Applying ice to the lesion will help lessen swelling and temporarily ease the pain. Each option provides short-term benefits and can be used as directed by your dentist.

If you’re using an over-the-counter rinse for mouth sores, ensure it does not contain alcohol. Alcohol is a frequent drying agent found in many mouth rinses and can cause additional irritation if you have an ulcer.

In more severe cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe a steroid ointment, medicated mouth rinse, or an immunosuppressant. The best prescription medication for mouth sores will depend on your specific type of ulcer and will require an examination by your dentist.

Recurring mouth sores due to irritants like orthodontic appliances, chipped teeth, or old fillings can be addressed by your dental professional. In the meantime, you may want to use orthodontic wax over the sharp edge to prevent further irritation.

Preventing Mouth Ulcers

Maintaining good home care through daily brushing, flossing, and using a non-alcoholic antiseptic mouthwash can help avoid mouth ulcers. However, by determining the cause of your mouth ulcer, you can prevent them from recurring, especially if they are due to an irritant or virus.

Avoid triggers that cause ulcers, such as tissue trauma, sun exposure, or acidic foods. Be cautious when brushing not to let your toothbrush slip, and avoid brushing too hard. Also, avoid certain foods, such as hard chips or bread, that can hurt the tissue if you bite them incorrectly. Additionally, consider cutting back on foods and beverages that are high in acidity.

You may also want to consider taking a multivitamin daily to maintain adequate Vitamin C, B12 and Iron levels. Consult your physicians to discuss the side effects of your current medications, as bloodwork may need to be run to identify any deficiencies.
Try to manage stress as much as possible through meditation, exercise, and lifestyle changes, and prioritise getting enough sleep each night.

Mouth ulcers are painful sores that prevent you from enjoying the foods and beverages you love. While mouth ulcers are common, they can also indicate deeper health issues or diseases. Understanding the symptoms and treating ulcers early can quicken your healing time and prevent them from recurring and developing into chronic problems.

If you suffer from persistent or chronic mouth ulcers or have an extremely large mouth ulcer, contact your dentist or healthcare provider.

Dr. Mahima Krongold

Dr. Mahima Krongold

Dr Krongold has been practicing dentistry for over twenty years. She has background experience dealing with a diverse range of dental issues, which vary significantly from individual to individual. Her experience has been built upon by her endless thirst for practical and technological advancement in the field of crowns, implants, bridge work, root canals, endodontics, teeth whitening and cosmetic work. Dr Krongold is a family dentist with three children. Children's dentistry is a specialised area for her, particularly encompassing oral hygiene and dental comfort.

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