What are Mouth Ulcers?

Mouth ulcers are open sores that can occur inside the mouth, on the tongue, or on the gums. These ulcers can be painful and make it difficult to eat or drink. Mouth ulcers are usually round or oval in shape and have a red border. They can occur alone or in clusters.

Most mouth ulcers are harmless and will heal on their own within a few days to weeks. However, some mouth ulcers can be associated with more serious conditions, such as cancer. If you have a mouth ulcer that does not heal within two weeks, or if you have multiple mouth ulcers that occur frequently, you should see your doctor for evaluation.

What Causes Mouth Ulcers?

The exact cause of mouth ulcers is unknown, but they are thought to be caused by a combination of factors, including:

Injury to the mucous membranes: Mouth ulcers can be caused by trauma to the mouth, such as from toothbrush bristles or ill-fitting dentures.

Mouth infections: Viral infections, such as herpes simplex virus (HSV) or human papillomavirus (HPV), can cause mouth ulcers. Bacterial infections, such as strep throat, can also cause mouth ulcers.

Inflammatory conditions: Certain inflammatory conditions, such as Crohn’s disease or Behcet’s disease, can cause mouth ulcers.

Allergic reactions: Allergic reactions to medications or food can sometimes cause mouth ulcers.

Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause, can sometimes trigger the development of mouth ulcers.

Certain medical conditions: Some medical conditions, such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease, can increase the risk of developing mouth ulcers.

Mouth ulcers can also be caused by certain medications, such as NSAIDs, beta-blockers, or ACE inhibitors.

What are the Symptoms of Mouth Ulcers?

The most common symptom of a mouth ulcer is pain. Other symptoms may include:

Redness and swelling around the ulcer

A white or yellow center

A black or red border

Crusting over the ulcer

Difficulty eating or drinking due to pain from the ulcer

How are Mouth Ulcers Diagnosed?

Mouth ulcers are usually diagnosed based on their appearance. Your doctor may also perform a physical examination and ask about your medical history. In some cases, your doctor may order a biopsy of the mouth ulcer to rule out cancer or other serious conditions.

How are Mouth Ulcers Treated?

Most mouth ulcers will heal on their own within a few days to weeks. Home treatment can help to relieve pain and speed healing. Home treatment measures for mouth ulcers include:

Avoiding spicy, acidic, or abrasive foods that can irritate the ulcer

Rinsing the mouth with salt water several times a day

Applying a topical anesthetic or corticosteroid cream to the ulcer

Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen

If home treatment measures are not effective, your doctor may prescribe a topical cream or ointment. These medications can help to reduce pain and speed healing. In some cases, oral corticosteroids or antiviral medications may be necessary.

What is the outlook for people with mouth ulcers?

Most mouth ulcers are harmless and will heal on their own within a few days to weeks. However, some mouth ulcers can be associated with more serious conditions, such as cancer. If you have a mouth ulcer that does not heal within two weeks, or if you have multiple mouth ulcers that occur frequently, you should see your doctor for evaluation.

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