A sore subject

November 30th, 2015

We all experience mouth ulcers from time to time, and they can be very painful. But what actually is a mouth ulcer? Why do we get them? And should we be worried?

In short, a mouth ulcer is sore which develops on the inside of the mouth. Usually red or yellow in colour, these sores can be very painful. They are different from cold sores which appear on the outer lips and are caused by a viral infection.

There are two main different types of mouth ulcers: ‘traumatic ulcers’ and ‘recurrent aphthous stomatitis’. A traumatic ulcer is identifiable because it is usually on its own. They are caused by damage to the mouth such as a particularly sharp tooth, an orthodontic brace or dentures, or when we accidentally bite the insider of our cheek or tongue. The ulcer will appear next to the cause of the damage and will clear up on its own once the source of the problem has gone.

Recurrent aphthous stomatitis is the repeated occurrence of mouth ulcers. They are most often found in children and young people, and we don’t really know why these ulcers appear. They are not infectious or inherited.

There are a few other causes of mouth ulcers that are less common. For example, if you come down with a bacterial infection, part of this might result in a mouth ulcer. This also applies to viral infections. Those that have anaemia or other blood disorders might also experience more ulcers, as might those with certain skin or gastrointestinal disorders. Ulcers can, in some cases, be indicative of mouth cancer. In this case, you need to look out for single ulcers that last a long time without there being an obvious reason (e.g. you’ve not bitten your cheek or been wearing ill-fitting dentures).

In terms of treating mouth ulcers, you need to find a treatment that addresses the cause. If there is a sharp tooth that is causing the ulcer for example, you’ll need to have this filed down so that it stops creating ulcers in that area. Or if you have an underlying health condition such as anaemia, then this will need treating before the ulcers will start to improve. There is a selection of mouthwashes and tablets available over the counter in your local pharmacy that may help ease the symptoms. If you have an ulcer that lasts longer than 3 weeks, visit your dentist to get in checked. Likewise, if you keep getting ulcers, it’s a good idea to get some advice.

If you’re looking to prevent ulcers from occurring, then there are several measures you can take to reduce the risks. Keep up your regular dentist check ups. Follow a robust oral hygiene regime using high-quality toothbrushes. Make sure you eat a varied diet with lots of vitamins and vegetables as these will lessen your risk or ailments such as mouth cancer.

So although it’s not always possible to prevent ulcers from occurring, we can certainly aim to reduce their frequency. And by understanding what causes them, we can look to avoid the triggers or remove any problematic factors.

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