Mouth ulcers: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Research Based
Medically reviewed by - Dr. MESSANGA Dimitri, MD Written by - Dr. Shaheen Shah


What are Mouth ulcers?

Mouth ulcers are small painful lesions that occur in the roof of the mouth (palate), lips, inner cheeks, and gums. They are generally red or yellow and quite uncomfortable, causing difficulty in drinking and eating. They are rarely infectious and usually resolve independently within 7 to 14 days. However, a more extensive, painful sore that lasts longer requires medical attention.

Mouth ulcers are small painful lesions that occur in the roof of the mouth (palate), lips, inner cheeks, and gums.

Facts of mouth ulcers

  • Mouth ulcers are mostly harmless but extremely painful
  • The size and symptoms of mouth ulcers depend on what type of mouth ulcer a person has.
  • Acidic food consumption can make mouth ulcers worse
  • Mouth ulcers are repeated troubles for most people 1Overview| Researched based study from


Symptoms of Mouth ulcers

  • Painful sores that may be red, white, or yellow
  • Red areas around the ulcers
  • Swelling around the lesions
  • Pain that worsens with talking, teeth brushing, eating, and drinking

Symptoms during extreme outbreaks of mouth ulcers

  • Fever
  • Swollen glands
  • Extreme tiredness

Symptoms of mouth ulcers requiring medical attention

  • New mouth ulcers appear before healing of the old ones
  • Unusual big lesions
  • Sores that remain even after 21 days
  • Sores are without pain
  • Sores that spreads to the lips
  • Extreme pain that cannot be managed by natural medications or over-the-counter medication
  • Extreme problems in drinking, eating, and talking
  • Diarrhea and fever when mouth ulcers appear
  • Ulcers develop after starting a new medication 2Symptoms| Researched based study from


Types of Mouth ulcers

Herpetiform ulceration

  • Herpetiform ulceration is an unusual form of aphthous ulcer.
  • The ulcers resemble Herpes sores and hence are named Herpetiform ulceration.
  • The ulcers recur very often but are non-infectious.

Minor ulcers

  • Minor ulcers are small oval or round ulcers that range from size 2 to 8 millimeters.
  • The lesions cause mild pain that generally resolves within 14 days.
  • Minor ulcers are prevalent, with 80% of people experiencing them.

Major ulcers

  • Major ulcers are bigger, irregular-shaped raised ulcers that penetrate deep into the skin and measure around 10 millimeters.
  • They take several days or months to clear but leave scars post-resolving.

Major ulcers are of two types. They are as follows:

Canker sores

  • Canker or aphthous sores are painful mouth ulcers that develop inside the cheeks or lips.
  • They are usually yellow or white, surrounded by inflamed red tissue.
  • They are not infectious and heal within 7 to 21 days without treatment.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease

  • Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a transmissible viral infection in young children under five years but can affect people of all ages. The Coxsackievirus causes it.
  • The virus can transmit from one person to another through unwashed hands, surfaces contaminated with stool, a person’s saliva, or respiratory secretions.
  • It is a mild condition that resolves on its own within days.

Cold sores

  • Cold sores or fever blisters are painful small blisters on and around the lips, cheeks, chin, nose, and mouth. The herpes simplex virus causes it.
  • Cold sores usually start with itching and burning sensations.
  • Cold sores are the most common type experienced by around 90% of the world’s population 3Types| Researched based study from


Causes of Mouth ulcers

The exact cause of mouth is unknown to date. However, certain factors can contribute to sore development. They are as follows:

  • Accidental biting of the tongue or cheek
  • Minor injury during dental cavity fill-up
  • Wearing orthodontic braces
  • Using harsh toothbrush
  • Allergic response to oral bacteria
  • Eating acidic foods and beverages such as pineapples, strawberries, and oranges
  • Lack of sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Viral, bacterial, or fungal infections
  • Medications such as painkillers and beta blockers
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Hormonal changes during puberty, periods, pregnancy, and menopause in women 4Causes| Researched based study from


Who are at risk of getting Mouth ulcers

  • People with high sugar (diabetes)
  • One with HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) infection
  • People with celiac disease ( a condition that damages the small intestine)
  • One with inflammatory bowel disease (a condition that causes pain and swelling of the colon and small intestine)
  • People with Behcet’s disease (a condition that causes blood vessel inflammation and is characterized by mouth and genital ulcers)
  • Who is having Lupus (an autoimmune disease that attacks healthy tissues and organs)
  • People with Crohn’s disease ( a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive tract)
  • With a familial history of mouth ulcers 7Risk| Researched based study from

One who is suffering from Deficiencies

Mouth ulcers can be due to the following deficiencies:

  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B9(Folate)
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Zinc 8Risk| Researched based study from


Diagnosis of Mouth ulcers

  • The doctor will carry out a visual examination to determine the type of mouth ulcers.
  • The doctor might undergo other tests for repeated severe ulcers to rule out any underlying health issue.
  • To diagnose a cold sore, the doctor might order a blood test to determine antibodies to Herpes 5Diagnosis| Researched based study from


Treatment of Mouth ulcers

Most mouth ulcers don’t require treatment and usually disappear within two weeks.

However, a dentist may recommend the following for recurring painful mouth ulcers-

  • Mouthwash-An antimicrobial mouthwash such as chlorhexidine
  • Pain killers-Pain-relieving ointments such as Orajel or Anbesol. Painkilling oral rinse to reduce the pain
  • Steroid lozenges-It reduces the pain, helps mouth ulcers to heal quickly and prevents the ulcer from erupting
  • Protective paste- Such as Orabase to cover the ulcer temporarily to protect it
  • Antibiotics-Antibiotics such doxycycline to fight against infections 6Treatment| Researched based study from

Home treatment for mouth ulcers

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Using over-the-counter medication like Anbesol and Oragel
  • Rinsing the mouth with lukewarm salt water several times a day
  • Applying ice on the ulcers
  • Covering the ulcer with baking soda paste
  • Placing magnesia milk on the ulcers
  • Practicing oral hygiene to keep the mouth clean
  • Avoiding hot and spicy food until the ulcer heals
  • Applying organic bee honey directly on the mouth ulcers
  • Chewing cloves a few times a day
  • Gargling with a teaspoon of diluted apple cider vinegar 2 to 3 times a day
  • Applying damp black tea compress directly on the ulcers
  • Taking supplements in case of vitamin B12, Vitamin B9, iron, and zinc deficiencies 9Treatment| Researched based study from


Tips for prevention of Mouth Ulcers.

Tips for prevention of Mouth ulcers

  • Avoiding foods that trigger or deteriorate symptoms
  • Avoiding talking while eating to prevent accidental bites
  • Avoiding toothbrushes with stiff bristles
  • Maintaining oral hygiene, such as daily mouth cleaning and flossing (cleaning between the teeth)
  • Avoiding mouthwashes with alcohol or sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Talking to a dentist for waxes to cover dental mouth devices with sharp edges
  • Sleeping enough and taking adequate rest
  • Properly brushing the teeth after meals
  • Eating a well-balanced diet with fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Reducing stress
  • Visiting the dentist periodically for cleanings and check-ups 10Prevention| Researched based study from


Food that might help cure Mouth ulcers

Some of the foods that might cure mouth ulcers are as follows-

  • Milk
  • Curd
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Eggs
  • Banana
  • Papaya
  • Apple
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Sweet potato
  • Custard
  • Puddings


Key Takeaways

  • Mouth ulcers are painful inconvenient lesions that are not dangerous and resolve on their own
  • There are certain ointments and solutions to lessen the pain and symptoms.
  • To prevent future outbreaks, one must avoid foods that trigger mouth ulcers and reduce stress as much as possible.
  • People with frequent ulcers must consult a healthcare professional to know the underlying cause and to get the proper treatment.
Disclaimer: The user acknowledges that this article's information is being offered for informational purposes only. Every attempt has been made to guarantee that the article is informational and correct. If they have any doubts or questions about their health, we firmly advise our readers to visit a doctor or other healthcare professional.

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