Mouth sores are common ailments that affect about 80 percent of Americans at some point in their lives.
These sores can appear on any of the soft tissues of the mouth, including the lips, cheeks, gums, tongue, and floor and roof of the mouth. You can even develop mouth sores on your esophagus, the tube leading to the stomach.
Most commonly, mouth sores—which include canker sores—are a minor irritation and last only a week or two. In some cases, however, they can indicate mouth cancer or an infection, such as herpes simplex virus.
Herpes simplex causes cold sores, or fever blisters, and is highly contagious. The sores are contagious until completely healed, so be sure to wash your hands after touching them and to change your toothbrush once they are healed.
There are lots of things that can cause mouth ulcers, but they usually are due to you damaging your mouth, for example when you accidentally bite the inside of your cheek, brush your teeth too hard, or catch your cheek or lip on a sharp tooth or filling. They can also develop because you wear braces or dentures.
You can get mouth ulcers that keep coming back, mainly at times when you’re particularly stressed, anxious or ‘run down’. Some women can also develop them during their monthly period, and about 40% of people who have regular mouth ulcers report that it runs in their family.
Your diet can play part too and there are certain foods that may increase the likelihood of you getting a mouth ucler. These includes:
Stopping smoking may mean that you temporarily develop mouth ulcers, which is a normal reaction while your body is coping with chemical changes.
Sometimes, mouth ulcers keep coming back due to a lack of vitamin B12 or iron, a medical condition such as Coeliac or Crohn’s disease, or any condition where your immune system is suppressed, such as HIV or lupus. They can also be caused by a reaction to a medicine that you are taking, including NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or aspirin, nicorandil (for angina), and beta-blockers (for conditions such as angina and high blood pressure).
Mouth ulcers are usually round or oval sores that commonly appear inside the mouth on the:
They can be white, red, yellow or grey in color and swollen.
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.
Pain from a mouth ulcer generally lessens in a few days and the sores usually heal without treatment in about a week or two.
If sores are large, painful or persistent, your dentist may prescribe an antimicrobial mouth rinse, a corticosteroid ointment, or a prescription or non-prescription solution to reduce the pain and irritation.
Mouth ulcers generally go away by themselves, and in most cases you can safely ignore them. Over-the-counter gels or lozenges that protect the ulcer or have a local anaesthetic effect to relieve the discomfort of a mouth ulcer are available.
Antimicrobial mouthwash can help to kill any micro-organisms causing mouth infections.
If your mouth ulcer does not respond to over-the-counter or at-home treatments, your doctor may prescribe a topical medication containing a steroid for the inflammation.
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