Mouth ulcer is an open lesion or a canker sore that forms in the mouth. Although it is painful and uncomfortable, a mouth ulcer is usually harmless and resolves without any treatment in one ortwo weeks. However, if the mouth ulcers are present for more than three weeks, then medical help may be necessary. Mouth ulcers usually form inside the mouth on the regions of the cheeks, lips, back portion of the roof of the mouth or on the tongue. Mouth ulcers may be single or multiple, may grow in sizeand spread in the mouth.
Based on the size and severity, the mouth ulcers are classified into the following three types:
- Minor ulcers range from 2-8 mm in diameter and usually resolve in 10-14 days.
- Major ulcers are deeper and bigger and resolve after several weeks. They may leave a scar after healing.
- Herpetiform ulcers are clusters of several small sores.
Mouth ulcers are different from cold sores (tiny blisters) that develop on the lips or around the mouth. Cold sores usually begin with a tingling and burning sensation.
Mouth ulcer appears to be round and is white, yellowish or grey in color with a red border. If severe mouth ulcers are present, the following symptoms may be evident:
- Swollen lymph nodes
If the above symptoms are present, then consult the dentist for evaluation and treatment.
The exact cause of mouth ulcers is not known. However, some of the common factors which may aggravate mouth ulcers include:
- Consumption of acidic foods such as citrus fruits or spicy foods
- Mouth injury from accidental bite
- Use of medicines such as pain relievers and beta-blockers
- Poor fitting dentures, braces or other devices which cause friction on the inner surface of the mouth
- Nutritional deficiency of vitamin B12 or iron
- Weakened immune system
- Stress and anxiety
- Hormonal changes which occur during puberty, pregnancy and menopause
- Certain genetic factors
Mouth ulcers can also occur as a symptom of certain viral infections which are more common in children.
The following complications may develop if mouth ulcers are not treated on time:
- Intolerable oral pain
- Difficulty to eat, drink or brush the teeth
- Growth and spreading of the sores
- Dental infections such as tooth abscesses
- Cellulitis of the mouth due to the secondary infections of the ulcers
- Oral cancers
Usually the dentist performs examines the oral cavity to find the location of mouth ulcers. If you have severe mouth ulcers which has not healed over a long period of time, you may be prescribed few tests to determine any underlying medical condition that may have caused mouth ulcers.
Mouth ulcers are self-limiting and usually disappear in one or two weeks. However, treatment is necessary if they persist beyond 3 weeks and may include the following:
- Mouth ulcers which are red and very painful are usually due to bacterial infections and are treated with antibiotics.
- Inflammation and pain associated with the ulcers is treated with corticosteroid ointment which has to be applied on the affected areas.
- Nutritional supplements such as Vitamin B6, B-12, folic acid and zinc may also be prescribed to accelerate healing.
The following self-care measures can help to enhance the healing of mouth ulcers and prevent them from recurring:
- Applying ice to the sores.
- Avoiding the use of toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulphate as it can further irritate the ulcer
- Using a straw to sip cold drinks
- Avoiding the consumption of hot, acidic or spicy foods Maintaining a good oral hygiene by brushing the teeth twice daily with a soft bristled tooth brush and flossing the teeth once daily
- Using over-the-counter local anesthetic gels andantimicrobial mouthwashes
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