Home Dentistry Articles Mouth ulcer
A mouth ulcer or canker sore is a
painful open sore inside the mouth caused by a break in
the mucous membrane. The condition is also called aphthous
Mouth ulcers often begin with a tingling or
burning sensation at the site of the future sore. In a few days
they often progress to form a red spot or bump, followed by
an open ulcer.
The mouth ulcer appears as a yellow or grey
oval with an inflamed red border and is on average about 3 mm
across, but can be up to 1 cm across and occasionally larger.
The grey, white, or yellow colored area within the red boundary
is due to the formation of layers of fibrin. The ulcer, which
itself is often extremely painful when agitated, may be accompanied
by a painful swelling of the lymph nodes below the jaw, which
can be mistaken for toothache.
Mouth ulcers may last anywhere from 1 to 4
weeks, with the greatest pain occuring at the onset of the ulcer.
The immediate cause of mouth ulcers is unknown,
but factors that appear to provoke them include stress, illness,
damage from rough teeth, hormonal changes, food allergies and
deficiencies in vitamin B12 and folic acid. Consumption of particular
foods, such as chocolate may also trigger mouth ulcers in some.
A common urban myth is that mouth ulcers are
directly connected to the onset of the Herpes simplex virus,
but in reality ulcers associated with herpes are of an entirely
different nature from mouth ulcers. It is also said that excessive
consumption of sweets is a cause of mouth ulcers - this is believed
to be an old wives' tale. Other disorders can cause mouth ulcers,
including oral thrush, leukoplakia, gingivostomatitis and oral
lichen planus. Mouth ulcers are also associated with ulcerative
colitis, Crohn's disease, coeliac disease (gluten sensitivity)
and Behcet's disease. The treatment depends on the cause.
Mouth ulcers normally heal without treatment
within seven to ten days. The best start is to make sure you
have good oral hygiene and avoid spicy/acidic/salty foods and
drinks. In addition, one can treat the pain with several pain-relieving
gels like Anbesol or Campho-Phenique available in drugstores.
Some people claim that such gels also accelerate the healing
of their sores.
Other home remedies vary in efficacy. Certain
techiniques heal sores for some people, but there are no treatments
with widespread medical support. Most seem to be based on an
antiseptic (mild antibiotic), an antacid, or both. Antiseptic
techniques suggested include the following:
Swab the sores with hydrogen peroxide
Rinse the mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash
Rinse the mouth with salt water-1 teaspoon
of salt dissolved in 1 cup (250 ml) of warm water (aka.
a saline solution)
Antacid techniques suggested include the following:
Swab the sores with milk of magnesia
Apply powdered alum directly to the sores-available
in the spice aisle at your grocery store
Make a paste of baking soda and water-apply
directly to the sores
Make a paste of crushed Tums and water-apply
directly to the sores
Rinse the mouth with a baking soda-Water
mix-1 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in 1 cup (250 ml)
of warm water
Rinse the mouth with warm milk
Combination therapies tell you to use the antiseptic
first, and then the antacid. ie. Swab sores with hydrogen peroxide
and then swab them with milk of magnesia.
Treatment for severe cases
Treatments based on antibiotics and steroids
are reserved for severe cases, and should be used only under
medical supervision. Tetracycline suspension is a common antibiotic
prescribed for mouth ulcers. If the ulcer does not heal within
a week, a doctor or dentists may cauterize it using a silver
nitrate applicator or laser. This procedure immediately burns
off the sore, causing it to completely disappear within a few
hours or two to three days.
Some dentists recommend a sulfuric acid solution
for treating mouth ulcers, such as debacterol.
The miracle cures that are advertised should
be viewed with skepticism.
In some cases, switching toothpastes can prevent
mouth ulcers from occurring, with some being able to reduce
the occurrence of ulcers by approximately 80%. Sodium dodecyl
sulfate (sometimes called sodium lauryl sulfate or simply SLS),
a detergent found in most toothpastes, is thought to increase
the incidence of mouth ulcers. Using toothpaste free of this
compound has been found to help many people by reducing the
amount and size of ulcers and in some cases, completely stopping
them. A few individuals have noticed that switching to a toothpaste
with Baking Soda prevented reoccurance of mouth ulcers. Many
people have found that taking Lysine-L supplements can help
to reduce the frequency of mouth ulcer appearances.