Mouth Ulcer: Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis


Medically reviewed by

Bajaj Finserv Health

General Health

7 min read

Key Takeaways

  • Mouth ulcer is a small, non-contagious lesion that develops in the mouth.
  • Understanding the cause of mouth ulcers is an essential part of treatment.
  • Mouth ulcers don’t require special treatment beyond avoiding the common stressors like smoking or highly acidic food.

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 the 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 center 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.

Difference Between Mouth Ulcers and Cold Sores

Your mouth is where mouth ulcers develop. They result from irritability, harm, and vitamin inadequacies, among other things. On the other hand, a virus causes cold sores, which grow on your lips. Cold sores are contagious, but mouth ulcers are not.

Many individuals are unsure of the differences between a mouth ulcer and a cold sore, yet they are relatively distinct from one another. While mouth ulcers form inside the mouth, cold sores typically appear on the lips at the point where the lips meet the rest of the face skin. The herpes simplex virus, which causes cold sores, also causes very infectious blister fluid. Mouth ulcers are neither a virus nor an infectious disease.

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 specialized 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 kinds of toothpaste 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.

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

Early Symptoms of Mouth Ulcer

Mouth ulcers are simple to identify. They typically manifest as sores on your lips, gums, tongue, inner cheeks, or roof of the mouth. Mouth ulcers are often white, yellow, or grey in the middle, with red around the margins. You could get one ulcer, or you might get several. Additional signs can include:

  • Surrounding the ulcer, swelling
  • Pain when cleaning your teeth becomes more intense
  • Consuming foods that are sour, salty, or spicy, causing pain to aggravate

Mouth Ulcer Symptoms

Though it varies from person to person, the precise aetiology of mouth ulcers is yet unknown. However, there are a few frequent reasons and a few things that might make mouth ulcers worse, such as the following:

  • Giving up smoking
  • Citrus fruits and other acidic or spicy meals, as well as braces, ill-fitting dentures, and other objects that might rub against the mouth and gums.
  • Biting the tongue or the inside of the cheek
  • An inadequate filling
  • Worry or tension
  • Drugs such as beta-blockers and painkillers, hormonal changes during pregnancy, puberty, and menopause hereditary factors

Some individuals may have ulcers due to another illness or a nutritional deficit.

Ulcers may develop due to immune system impairment, vitamin B12 or iron deficiencies, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, or other conditions.

Also Read: What are Peptic Ulcer?

Types of Mouth Ulcers

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 anesthetics
  • Baking soda paste for the affected area
  • Natural remedies such as myrrh, licorice root, and chamomile tea
Also Read: A Complete Guide to Becosules

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 an accessible healthcare platform provided by Bajaj Finserv Health, availing of healthcare is now simpler than ever as you can take advantage of several telemedicine innovations designed to make life easier.

With it, 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 the 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.

Published on 20 Nov 2020Last updated on 10 Nov 2022

Please note that this article is solely meant for informational purposes and Bajaj Finserv Health Limited (“BFHL”) does not shoulder any responsibility of the views/advice/information expressed/given by the writer/reviewer/originator. This article should not be considered as a substitute for any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with your trusted physician/qualified healthcare professional to evaluate your medical condition. The above article has been reviewed by a qualified doctor and BFHL is not responsible for any damages for any information or services provided by any third party.


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