What are Mouth Ulcers and Why do you get them?

Mouth ulcers are painful sores that appear in the mouth. Although they’re uncomfortable, they’re usually harmless and most clear up by themselves within a week or two.

Mouth ulcers are common and can usually be managed at home, without seeing your dentist or GP. Visit your pharmacist first, unless your ulcer has lasted longer than three weeks.

What does a mouth ulcer look like?

Mouth ulcers are usually round or oval sores that commonly appear inside the mouth on the:

  • Cheeks
  • Lips
  • Tongue

They can be white, red, yellow or grey in colour and it can be swollen at times.

It’s possible to have more than one mouth ulcer at a time, and they may spread or grow.

Mouth ulcers shouldn’t be confused with cold sores, which are small blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth. Cold sores often begin with a tingling, itching or burning sensation around your mouth.

How to treat mouth ulcers

Mouth ulcers don’t usually need to be treated, because they tend to clear up by themselves within a week or two.

However, treatment can help to reduce swelling and ease any discomfort. This may help if you keep getting mouth ulcers or your mouth ulcer affects eating and drinking.

Self-care:

Things you can do to speed up healing include:

  • Applying a protective paste recommended by your pharmacist
  • Using a soft toothbrush to brush your teeth
  • Using 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

Pharmacy medicines:

You can buy several types of mouth ulcer treatment from a pharmacy. Speak to your pharmacist about the best treatment for you. Options include the following:

Antimicrobial mouthwash may speed up healing and prevent infection of the ulcer.

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.

What causes mouth ulcers?

In many cases, the reason for mouth ulcers is unclear. 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.

When to see your pharmacist, dentist or GP:

Mouth ulcers can be painful, which can make it uncomfortable to eat, drink or brush your teeth. It’s usually safe to treat mouth ulcers at home. See your GP or dentist if:

  • Your mouth ulcer has lasted three weeks
  • 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

Mouth ulcers are also a possible symptom of a viral infection that mainly affects young children, called hand, foot and mouth disease. Speak to your GP or your dentist.

We are happy to help at Corne Smith Dentistry, we also stock Aloclair Gel, a no sting, fast acting and long lasting gel with aloe vera extract.

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