Oral Report: Mouth Ulcers

Mouth Ulcers

What Are Mouth Ulcers?

Up to 1 in 5 people suffer from recurring mouth ulcers, which are occasional sores that appear on the gums or inside the cheek and are typically harmless and self-treatable. Mouth sores can be painful, especially when eating or drinking, but usually clear up within a few days. However, certain forms of mouth ulcers can signify a more severe illness, especially if they last longer than a couple of weeks at a time and cause fever or swollen lymph nodes. Get the overview of mouth ulcers, and find out how to manage and treat these tricky abscesses.

Do I have a Mouth Ulcer?

Mouth ulcers are easy to diagnose, since they appear as white or grey bumps on the inside of the cheeks, lips, or gums, and cause a stinging sensation when touched. The only sign of a mild ulcer is a sore in your mouth that are white or grey, which may have an inflamed look or a red perimeter. In more severe cases, ulcers may be accompanied by:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever or chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Recurring ulcers that seem to crop up just as other ones are healing

Typical mouth ulcers rarely cause pain for more than a couple of days; if your ulcer or pain is persistent, it may be significant of a more serious problem.

Why Do I have a Mouth Ulcer?

Mouth ulcers are not an exact science. Although dentists can usually point out the cause of an ulcer, subjective factors like emotional stress or sensitivities to certain foods can play a role in developing mouth sores. However, common risk factors for mouth ulcers include:

  • Trauma to the gums or inside of the cheeks, such as friction from braces, teeth, or hard foods like chips or carrots
  • Especially acidic foods, like lemons, tomatoes, strawberries, or oranges (these foods also tend to aggravate preexisting mouth ulcers)
  • Smoking, or recently quitting smoking – although it’s not been proven, some scientists believe that the changes in your mouth chemistry when you start or quit smoking can initially cause an increase in mouth ulcers. For those choosing to quit smoking, don’t worry – this is temporary!
  • A weak immune system or underlying health issues: malnutrition or vitamin deficiencies, or gastrointestinal disorders like celiac or Crohn’s disease

How Do I Treat my Mouth Ulcers?

Generally speaking, mouth ulcers clear up within a week without treatment. However, for sores that are large, painful or recurring, your dentist can recommend an antibiotic, ointment, or mouth rinse to help reduce inflammation and pain. If the mouth ulcers aren’t caused by an underlying illness, they can’t be “cured,” but following these steps can help lessen the irritation and help your sores heal more quickly.

  • Avoid consuming irritants such as spicy or acidic food, chewing gum, or acidic drinks
  • Brush and floss daily, which will prevent bacteria buildup that can aggravate an ulcer
  • Seek medical help if you notice sores that are unusually large, spreading, or accompanied by a high fever or dehydration

If your ulcers last more than a couple of weeks, contact your dentist right away, as this could be indicative of a more severe illness.

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