Oral Ulcers

Mouth ulcers or canker sores are small sores that form on the gums, lips, inner cheeks or palate. The ulcers can be triggered by several different factors, including minor injuries of gums due to pricks of tooth brush or sharp food items etc, hormonal changes and emotional stress. Mouth ulcers aren’t contagious and they go away on their own but there are treatments to relieve pain and discomfort.


The exact cause of mouth ulcers or canker sores is still not known and varies from one individual to the other. Still, there are some common causes and several factors that may aggravate mouth ulcers, some of them are mentioned

  • Citrus fruits and other foods high in acidity

  • Biting the tongue or inside the cheek due to various reasons

  • Braces and poor-fitting dentures

  • Sharp, eroded or broken fillings

  • Stress or anxiety

  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy, puberty, and menopause

  • Medications including beta-blockers and frequent use of painkillers

  • Genetic factors

  • Some people may develop ulcers as a result of a different systemic condition or a nutritional deficiency.

  • Spicy food

  • Conditions such as celiac or Crohn’s disease, vitamin B12 or iron deficiency, or weak immune system may also trigger ulcers formation

Are mouth ulcers cancerous?

Oral cancer and mouth ulcers are distinctive in their causes, symptoms and treatments. However, as mentioned earlier, new or persistent ulcers require professional intervention. There are some fundamental differences between mouth ulcers and cancer are mentioned below

  • Mouth ulcers are often painful whereas oral cancer is not.
  • Mouth ulcers will heal mostly in about 2 weeks, whereas mouth cancer will not heal that fast and will often spread.
  • Oral cancer patches may be rough, hard, and not easy to scrape off.
  • Oral cancer is often a mix of red and white areas or large white areas that appear on the tongue, the back of the mouth, the gums, and even on the cheeks.
  • Oral cancer is often linked to heavy drinking or tobacco use and smoking habits.

Types of Ulcers

Standard mouth ulcers appear on the inner cheeks and last for about 1 to 2 weeks. Most of the ulcers are harmless and heal with no medical intervention. There are three main types of mouth ulcers.

Herpetiform ulceration

  • Herpetiform ulcers are a subtype of aphthous ulcers and get they are named so because they resemble the sores associated with herpes. Unlike herpes, herpetiform ulcer is not contagious. Herpetiform ulcers reoccur very quickly, and it may appear that the condition never gets better, but it will heal eventually.

Minor ulcers

  • This type of ulcer can range in size from about 2 millimeters up to 8 mm across. These ulcers typically take up to 2 weeks to get better and can cause minor pain.

Major ulcers

  • These ulcers are bigger than minor ulcers, major ulcers are often irregular in shape, may be raised, and penetrate deeper into the tissue than minor ulcers. They can take several weeks to heal and are likely to leave scar tissue when they heal.


The oral ulcers can be painful, and the pain can be aggravated by food, drink, and poor oral hygiene.

Herpetiform ulcers symptoms may include the following

  • The ulcer appear as extremely painful ulcers in the mouth
  • They reoccur very quickly, so infections seems like continuous
  • They increase in size, eventually coming together to form a large and ragged ulcer.
  • It takes ten or more days to heal completely
  • They appear anywhere in the mouth there is no specific site for these ulcers
  • They tend to be found predominant in females than males and are more common in older adults.

Symptoms of minor and major ulcers include the following

  • One or more painful sores or ulcers that may appear on the cheeks, the roof of the mouth, and the tongue
  • The appearance is same as of round lesions that have red edges and are yellow, white, and gray in the middle of the lesion
  • During more extreme outbreaks of mouth ulcers, some people may experience fever, sluggishness, and swollen glands causing discomfort.

When to visit a doctor

People who frequently get mouth ulcers may find it difficult to know when to visit a dentist. There are some situations, however, where a person should see a doctor as soon as possible. Some of these circumstances include the following

  • The appearance of a non-painful ulcer in one or more areas of the oral cavity.
  • Unusual ulcers that appear in a new area in the mouth.
  • Ulcers that are spreading fastly than usual.
  • Ulcers lasting longer than 3 weeks.

Others may want to seek medical attention or treatment for their ulcers if

  • They are particularly painful or larger in size.
  • If the symptoms include fever.
  • They develop after starting a new medicine or any oral gels.
  • Secondary bacterial infection conditions.


Maintaining good dental hygiene, including brushing and flossing, may help to prevent common mouth ulcers. Mouth ulcers have no known cure and typically reoccur in the mouth throughout a person’s life depending on various causes stated above. Though the appearance of an ulcer may be inevitable, there are some things people can do to lessen the severity of or reduce the number of times they suffer from an outbreak by taking appropriate measures.

Some prevention methods include the following

  • Talking to a doctor about changing medications that are known to cause ulcers.
  • Avoiding foods that can either trigger or worsen symptoms of the ulcers
  • Maintaining oral hygiene with daily brushing and flossing
  • Avoiding triggers known to cause outbreaks in the past to prevent reoccurrence.


In most of the cases, the pain and discomfort from mouth ulcers will lessen in a few days and then disappear in about 2 weeks with no need for treatment. For people with much more painful or history of frequent recurrence of mouth ulcers, a dentist may prescribe a solution to reduce swelling and relieve from pain. Also, a dentist may prescribe an antimicrobial mouthwash or topical ointment/gel to be applied directly to the infected patch. This can help to ease discomfort and relieves from pain.

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