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Mouth Ulcers

A Guide to Mouth Ulcers

Mouth ulcers are painful growths that form in the mouth, usually on the inside of the cheeks and are either oval or round in shape.

Although they can be painful – particularly when pressure is placed on the sore – they are harmless and usually clear up within a couple of weeks, but those that last for a long time should be treated by a dental professional.

How common is this type of ailment?

Also known as apthous ulcers, mouth ulcers are extremely common and the majority of people will have one during their lifetime. The problem is one that affects women and young adults in particular.

Fortunately, the growths cannot be passed between individuals.

While most people suffer from the ailment only occasionally, some will find they keep coming back. Recurrent growths affect between one in five adults and five to ten per cent of children in the UK.

The issue is completely different to a common mouth ulcer and should be treated accordingly.

What are the symptoms of mouth ulcers?

Individuals can usually tell if they have a mouth ulcer due to its distinctive appearance, the growth is usually:

  • Oval or round in shape
  • Inflamed around the edge
  • Yellow, white, red or grey in colour

The sores usually appear on:

  • The inside of the cheeks
  • Floor of the mouth
  • Under surface of the tongue
  • Inside of the lips

Patients will find it is extremely rare to develop a mouth ulcer on the roof of the mouth.

In instances when the issue gets progressively worse, patients should visit an emergency dentist or their GP. This is usually required when the ailment gets progressively more painful and inflamed or lasts for more than three weeks.

How are mouth ulcers caused?

Most of the time, this problem is not caused by an infection, but simple damage to the mouth that has been sustained by accidentally biting the side of the mouth while eating. Also, a sore can develop after using a toothbrush incorrectly or from a sharp pearly white or filling.

Recurrent ulcers

The cause of returning mouth ulcers is a little more difficult to identify, while some people may never discover why they are affected by this problem.

A number of factors, however, may increase the chance of getting ulcers on a regular basis, including:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Oral trauma – such as excessive brushing or chewing sharp foods
  • Hormonal changes – many women develop this ailment during their period due to changes in levels in the body throughout the menstrual cycle

Consumption of particular items can also increase the likelihood of sustaining this type of injury, including:

  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Peanuts
  • Strawberries
  • Almonds
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat flour
  • Cheese

Individuals who have recently stopped smoking may find they develop mouth sores more than usual, which is a completely normal reaction. This is due to the body dealing with a change of chemicals in the body.

After giving up tobacco products, a rise in growths will be temporary and people should not let it deter them from kicking the habit, as the long-term health benefits are far greater than the discomfort of ulcers.

What about underlying conditions?

The sores may also be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as: Vitamin B12 deficiency, iron deficiency, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and reactive arthritis.

How is the issue diagnosed?

Those people who think they have developed a mild mouth ulcer do not require a formal diagnosis from their GP, while the majority will not need any specific treatment, but there are some self-care tips individuals can follow to help the problem heal faster.

Individuals are advised to visit their doctor or dentist if their sore is causing significant pain or if they are getting them time and time again. During an appointment, the professional is likely to look inside the mouth and examine the affected area.

They will also look at the medical history to help them work out what is causing the breakout.

Patients may be asked about the following things:

  • The frequency of the ulcers
  • How long they last for
  • What treatments have been used, either prescribed or over the counter
  • The severity of the pain

If the medical professional is unsure about the diagnosis, they may want to rule out a number of conditions that could be causing the ulcers to reoccur. This could involve referral for a series of blood tests.

Those patients who have had a severe ulcer for more than three weeks may be transferred to a specialist, who is likely to carry out a biopsy on the affected area to help determine the cause of the ailment.

In addition, a similar course of action will be taken by those whose growths are abnormal in appearance, as many individuals develop large red and white patches in their mouth that can bleed and become painful.

If this is the case, members of the public will be referred for further examination.

How can mouth ulcers be treated?

While the majority of cases do not require specific treatment, they will usually heal naturally without the need for any action because they are mostly infrequent, mild and do not interfere with daily activities.

For these instances, some simple self-care advice can be followed to help the ailment heal more quickly. This includes:

  • Using a soft toothbrush
  • Avoid consuming foods that have been known to cause ulcers in the past
  • Similarly, eating hard items including toast should be left until the ailment has healed
  • Reducing stress levels by doing a relaxing activity, such as yoga, could also help

If the sore is causing significant pain and discomfort, a dental professional could prescribe medication to help ease the symptoms.

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