Mouth Ulcer: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Dr. Sneha Ganatra
November 20, 2020

A mouth ulcer, otherwise known as a canker sore, is a small, non-contagious lesion that develops in the mouth. Given that it is in the family of mouth sores, mouth ulcers shouldn’t be confused with cold sores, mainly because of the region they affect and the difference between the reason for a mouth ulcer and a cold sore. Mouth ulcers are typically found at the base of the gums, inside the cheeks, or on and under the tongue. In case of the latter the ulcer is known as a tongue ulcer.

Canker sores are quite painful, making ordinary tasks like eating, drinking, and even talking very uncomfortable. Characteristically, these ulcers are round, almost oval shaped, with a white centre and a red border. The ulcers can also show up on the inside of your lips and are very sensitive to any type of touch or substance.

In most cases, you may not need to seek special mouth ulcer treatment as these fade within a week or two. However, depending on the cause, you may experience symptoms for longer or with intense severity, which is when you may need to take some form of mouth ulcer medicine for recovery. This is why it is important to know what causes mouth ulcers and how to address them.

Here’s a breakdown of mouth ulcers, their causes, symptoms, and diagnosis, alongside a few helpful home remedies for mouth ulcers.

Mouth ulcer causes

While there is no specific cause for mouth ulcers, doctors and specialists believe it may be a combination of factors that trigger an outbreak. Additionally, canker sores may also be a symptom of underlying conditions, which is when they may be a lot more severe and take longer to fade, causing added discomfort. For this reason, knowing what causes mouth ulcers helps and can lead you to seek specialised care in time.

Here are some factors that can become a reason for a mouth ulcer.

  • Dental braces
  • Infection caused by a bacteria, virus, or fungus
  • Minor injuries caused by brushing, dental work, accidental bites, or sports
  • Mouthwash or toothpastes containing sodium lauryl sulphate
  • Allergies to mouth bacteria
  • Hormonal changes during menstruation
  • Vitamin deficiencies, particularly zinc, iron, B-12, and folate
  • Emotional stress
  • Sleep deprivation

These are all the general factors that can lead to the development of a mouth or tongue ulcer. Besides these, there are also a few medical conditions that can cause such ulcers.
They are as follows.

  • Diabetes mellitus
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Bechet’s disease
  • Malfunctioning immune system

Understanding the cause of mouth ulcers is an essential part of treatment as those caused by existing medical conditions require specialised treatment.

Mouth ulcer symptoms

Being able to identify and distinguish a mouth ulcer from a cold sore is important to avoid any confusion and a good first step is to know the symptoms, which can be categorised into types. With mouth ulcers, there are 3 main types, each having distinct characteristics to note. Here is a breakdown.

  • Minor mouth ulcers: These are the most common form of canker sores and fit the standard description. They are small, oval lesions with a white or yellow centre and a red outline. Minor ulcers will naturally pass within 2 weeks and heal without any scarring.
  • Major mouth ulcers: Unlike minor mouth ulcers, these are much larger and deeper. They may also have irregular borders based on their size and are usually extremely painful. Additionally, these may require additional care as recovery can take up to 6 weeks and, further, it is possible for major mouth ulcers to leave extensive scarring on the affected area.
  • Herpetiform mouth ulcers: These present in a completely distinct manner and usually occur only much later in life. Unlike minor or major mouth ulcers, these are pinpoint in size, develop in small clusters, anywhere between 10 and 100 sores, and have irregular edges. Further, in some cases, the clusters may merge and form one large ulcer. The recovery period for herpetiform mouth ulcers is up to 2 weeks and they usually fade away without causing any scarring.

Mouth ulcer diagnosis

Due to the fact that mouth ulcers are quite common and fade naturally, diagnosis may be limited to a simple physical or visual check. However, for more severe symptoms, doctors may prescribe additional testing to check for other medically-relevant conditions that may have a hand in the development of mouth ulcers.

Mouth ulcer treatment

Typically, mouth ulcers don’t require special treatment beyond avoiding the common stressors like smoking or highly acidic and spicy food. However, in some instances, you may experience great discomfort and as a result, need treatment to ease the pain and aid recovery. Here are a few treatment options you can rely on.

  • Mouth ulcer gel or a topical paste
  • Antimicrobial mouthwash
  • Nutritional supplements containing vitamins B-6, B-12, zinc, and folic acid
  • Milk of magnesia for the affected area
  • Mouth rinse with steroids to reduce pain and swelling
  • Topical anaesthetics
  • Baking soda paste for affected area
  • Natural remedies such as myrrh, liquorice root, and chamomile tea

Understanding the cause is the first step toward recovery when it comes to mouth ulcers and this is why it is important to be informed. Without such information, there are higher chances that one could skip getting medical care and solely rely on a mouth ulcer remedy that may not work effectively. Thankfully, with the Bajaj Finserv Health app, availing healthcare is now simpler than ever as you can take advantage of several telemedicine innovations designed to make life easier.

With the app, you no longer have to wait for the symptoms to worsen and can consult specialists virtually, whenever available. In addition to that, you can also find the best doctors around you and book appointments online. What’s more, owing to fact that you can consult a doctor over video, you can get remote medical aid if a physical visit isn’t possible or feasible. All of these features can help you get mouth ulcer treatment whenever you need it, thus reducing your discomfort and aiding recovery without hassles. To get started, simply download the app for free from Google Play or the Apple App Store today!