A common complaint that many of us will be familiar with, mouth ulcers are painful sores which can appear anywhere inside the mouth. Whether on the tip of the tongue, the roof of the mouth, the inner cheeks or lips these blister-like spots can feel pretty uncomfortable, especially when we’re eating, drinking or brushing our teeth. Occurring singly or in clusters, ulcers vary in colour from white/grey to yellow or red and though most are only a few millimetres in diameter, larger or ‘major’ ulcers can measure as much as 1cm across or more.
It’s safe to say that, contrary to the old wives’ tale, mouth ulcers are not caused by telling too many lies! There are a number of reasons why someone may get an ulcer, from the more common occasional sore to the recurring ulcers experienced by 1 in 5 people in the UK.
Traumatic ulcers – these are caused by injury to the mouth from:
- Sharp or rough edges on teeth, fillings or braces rubbing against the cheek or tongue
- Biting the inside of your cheek
- Over-enthusiastic tooth-brushing
- Burning the skin when consuming hot food and drink
- Grazing or cutting the skin when eating hard foods
Recurrent ulcers – as the name suggests, these come and go and can be caused by:
- Being tired, stressed or run-down
- Hormonal conditions
- Iron and vitamin B12 deficiency
- A genetic predisposition to ulcers
- Certain medications such as NSAIDs, beta-blockers and chemotherapy drugs
- Chronic conditions such as coeliac disease, HIV and inflammatory bowel disease
- Viral infection
Treating Mouth Ulcers
Generally, mouth ulcers will disappear of their own accord in around 7-14 days but if they’re particularly uncomfortable there are a number of things you can do to reduce the discomfort and speed up the healing process. Avoiding very spicy, acidic and crunchy foods that could irritate the ulcer and steering clear of hot drinks is a good start. Natural remedies like rinsing the mouth with warm salty water, applying honey or even placing a wet tea bag over the affected area are reputed to give some relief but may perhaps not be to your taste! If not, there are plenty of over-the-counter treatments that may help such as painkilling or anti-microbial mouthwashes, sprays, gels and lozenges – your pharmacist will be able to advise you as to which ones may be suitable.
However, an ulcer that lasts longer than 3 weeks could be a sign of something more serious. It may simply be a symptom of a general underlying medical condition or a side-effect of medication as previously mentioned but in very rare cases it can be an indication of oral cancer. Mouth cancer survival rates are extremely high if it’s spotted and treated early, so if you have any concerns about an ulcer, get it checked out by your dentist or GP. Though most mouth ulcers are nothing to worry about it’s always better to have a persistent ulcer looked at by the professionals.
Reducing the Risk of Getting Mouth Ulcers
As there are so many reasons why people get mouth ulcers, lowering your risk very much depends on the initial cause. However, in general terms there are a few actions you can take to reduce the occurrence of the condition, such as:
- Eating a healthy diet that gives you the nutrients you need to keep your immune system strong
- Reducing stress and getting enough sleep
- Brushing your teeth with good quality toothbrushes to avoid injury
- Maintaining a thorough dental health regime
- Visiting your dentist regularly for check-ups and consulting them whenever you have a dental problem that might be causing your ulcers (e.g. a rough tooth)
As mentioned, most sores will clear up in their own time and are nothing to be concerned about. However, if you’re worried about a mouth ulcer or think you might need some dental treatment to help prevent them occurring, please get in touch with us on 01239 820083.