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If you have a small, painful sore in your mouth, it may be a mouth ulcer. Also known as canker sores or aphthous ulcers, mouth ulcers commonly appear as shallow lesions inside your mouth.
Unlike cold sores, most mouth ulcers aren’t contagious, and they usually go away on their own within two weeks. Home treatments can relieve mouth pain while the ulcer heals.
Call your doctor or dentist if you have a mouth ulcer or cluster of sores that are unusually large, extremely painful, or last longer than three weeks. A mouth sore that doesn’t go away or grows larger may be a sign of oral cancer.1
Mouth ulcers look like round or oval sores on the soft tissues inside your mouth. They usually appear on the lips or cheeks but can also develop:
A mouth ulcer can be white, yellow, grey, or red and may appear swollen. You can have a single ulcer or many, and they’re typically small and shallow.
Three types of mouth ulcers are categorized by size and how long they last:
Herpetiform ulcers. Multiple ulcers that appear as a cluster of 10 to 100 pinpoints and usually heal within one month.
The primary symptom of a mouth ulcer is the appearance of a small sore inside your mouth. Other symptoms can include:
Mouth ulcer symptoms may worsen during periods of stress, illness, or lack of sleep.
Although mouth ulcers are common, the exact cause remains unknown. Factors contributing to mouth ulcers include:
Stress and smoking can make you more prone to developing mouth ulcers.
Canker sores and cold sores are not the same.
See a doctor or dentist if you experience any of the following:
A mouth ulcer is diagnosed through a simple visual exam. However, further tests may be needed if you have other worrisome symptoms.
If your oral health expert cannot identify the origin of your mouth ulcers, or if the ulcers do not respond to standard treatments, you may need a biopsy of the ulcer and some surrounding tissue.
A biopsy is a process that involves the removal of a tissue sample for examination under a microscope and diagnosis.
The best way to get rid of a mouth ulcer depends on the underlying cause.
Depending on your needs, mouth ulcer treatment may include:
Foods that can irritate a mouth ulcer include:
Focus on eating soft foods and soups while a mouth ulcer is healing. Be sure to let hot food cool down a bit before eating.
Brushing your teeth with a mouth ulcer can be uncomfortable, but it’s important to maintain good oral health. Using a soft toothbrush can prevent mouth injuries that may increase the risk of new sores developing.
Check your toothpaste and mouthwash ingredients, and avoid irritants like alcohol and sodium lauryl sulfate.
Plant-based remedies used as mouth ulcer treatment include:7
If a mouth ulcer is caused by a nutritional deficiency, taking supplements may help. These may include:
Over-the-counter medications can relieve the pain and symptoms of mouth ulcers, including:
Other home care techniques for mouth ulcer treatment include:
If your mouth ulcer is severe or persists despite home care, your doctor or dentist can recommend the best treatment for you.
Treatment might be as easy as smoothening a sharp tooth poking your cheek. Other times, your doctor may recommend steroids, laser treatment, or cauterization (burning).
There are things you can do to reduce the recurrence of mouth ulcers:
Some types of prescription medications, such as antidepressants, can also cause mouth ulcers.5 If your prescribed medication is causing sores in your mouth, consult your doctor for other options.
Mouth ulcers look like small, round, or oval sores inside your mouth. Also known as aphthous ulcers or canker sores, mouth ulcers are common and usually heal on their own within two weeks.
Call your doctor or dentist if a mouth ulcer doesn’t go away after three weeks or if it’s extremely large or painful. Most mouth ulcers respond to home treatment, like avoiding irritating foods, updating your oral hygiene routine, and using over-the-counter products.
Professional medical treatment for mouth ulcers includes steroids, laser treatment, and cauterization.
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