Mouth Ulcers

What are they?

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A mouth ulcer is a breach in the continuation of the membrane lining the inside of the mouth. There are several types, but the most common ones are the aphthous ulcers which are small greyish/white sores usually with a red rim. They can appear singly or multiply at a time, and can appear on the inside of the cheeks and of the lips, and on the under-surface of the tongue.

Mouth ulcers affect virtually everybody at some point, but some people keep getting them every now and then. They usually heal after a week or two, though the bigger ones may take longer and can also leave scars behind.

Why do they occur?

The causes of most mouth ulcers are not known, but they are more likely to occur in the following situations:

• Deficiency of iron, folic acid, or vitamins B-12 and C in the body.

• Sensitivity to gluten (a protein found in wheat).

• Bruising the inside of the mouth.

• When there is a family history of mouth ulcers.

What are the symptoms?

The ulcers are usually painful, and stretching the skin around it while eating or talking may make the pain worse.

If you get other symptoms with mouth ulcers, such as fever, stomach upset, weight loss, or ulcers elsewhere on your body, it could mean that there’s another medical condition causing the ulcers.

What treatments work?

Using antiseptic mouthwashes like chlorhexidine can help make the ulcers less painful and clear up faster. It should not be used at the same time with toothpaste (a 30 minutes interval is recommended). Daily usage can stain the teeth brown, but this usually goes away when treatment is stopped.

Some corticosteroid drugs can make the ulcers less painful and heal them more quickly. They come as mouthwashes, creams, pastes, sprays, and lozenges. Occasionally, they may cause a mouth infection called oral thrush.

You can apply some painkillers directly onto mouth ulcers in the form of mouthwashes, sprays, lozenges, and gels. Some of them are not recommended for children under 16.

It is also important to do the following things so that they don’t get worse or recur:

• Proper oral hygiene to avoid getting infections. This includes regular cleaning of the teeth with appropriate-sized toothbrushes.

• Avoid acidic drinks, such as fruit juices or fizzy drinks, so they don’t irritate your mouth.

• Avoid very spicy food and sharp food, such as crisps, which can scratch your mouth.