Mouth ulcers

Almost everyone has had a mouth ulcer in their lives and will therefore know what painful and annoying things these can be. Many people will get them over and over again and may feel as though they are never going to get rid of them. Fortunately there are many treatments that can be very helpful in not only getting rid of, but also in preventing mouth ulcers. This article looks at the latest research and evidence in order to provide you with the latest information available to help you get rid of these annoying ulcers.

What are they?

This answer may seem obvious but in fact when asked most people do not actually know what a mouth ulcer really is. Well they are small grey or white colored sores that occupy the inside of your mouth and are said to break the top layer of your skin, leaving the underside vulnerable to infection and damage. Sometimes ulcers will appear in force and you may experience many of these at the same time, or they may just come on one at a time. Most commonly these ulcers will appear on the inside of the lips, inside of the cheeks and on the tongue. In most cases ulcers are white or grey with a red border.

Now almost everyone will have at least one ulcer at some point in his or her lives. However for many people they will keep popping up every few weeks or months and this can be very distressing for this person. In most cases mouth ulcers are relatively small and are not usually larger than one-fifth of an inch. However this is a classic case of where size does not matter as they can cause a significant amount of pain for such a small sore. Mouth ulcers will usually heal within a week or two if left on their own, however many people get ulcers that are larger and take longer to heal. If an ulcer is large enough then it can actually leave a scar that will live inside your mouth for the rest of your life. Some people get many small ulcers that are very painful and these are called herpetiform ulcers. Ulcers of this nature are caused by the cold sore virus and require a different kind of treatment to normal mouth ulcers. In fact no one is really sure what causes mouth ulcers, however we do know that certain people are at higher risk. Some of the factors that make one more at risk are things such as not having enough iron, or folic acid, or vitamin B12 in your body. Those people who suffer from celiac disease are also at higher risk, as are those who have injuries to their mouths. Mouth ulcers can sometimes be said to run in the family and so if your mother or father gets them, then you will be at higher risk of getting them also. Sometimes ulcers in the mouth can be the result of another more serious illness or infection and if you have a large mouth ulcer and also find that you are losing weight then it would be a good idea to see your doctor. In other cases mouth ulcers may form as the result of a reaction to another medication such as nicotine patches.


As mentioned earlier mouth ulcers can be very painful and eating food or drinking fluids may make them hurt even more. As it is difficult to eat and drink you may find that you lose weight when you have these ulcers and because of this you should ensure that you get the right amount of calories in the form of soft foods and drinks. This can be quite a problem in children who get mouth ulcers and refuse to eat. If this is the case then you may want to visit your doctor so that he or she can give you options about how to get the right amount of nutrients into your child’s body. Some people get symptoms other than pain such as weight loss, stomach upset, fever, or ulcers in other places on your body. In this case you must visit your doctor and tell him or her about this as this may be a sign that you may be suffering from a more serious condition.


Mouthwashes that contain chlorhexidene (antiseptic) can be used in the treatment of mouth ulcers. These washes will make your ulcers less painful and may help them to go away faster. Unfortunately it is not known if these washes stop you from getting mouth ulcers in the future, however using these washes daily are also very good for your teeth and so you should use them regardless. Chlorhexidine does not taste very nice and can make some people feel rather sick. Using it every day can stain your teeth and tongue a little brown, however this discoloration should go away when you stop using it, however if this is not the case then a trip to your dentist will help you get rid of the staining. It is very important that you wait for at least half an hour before using toothpaste after the wash. There are other mouthwashes such as thymol (Listerine) and hexetidine (oraldene), however these are not as effective and some say that one chlorhexidene wash is equivalent to 6 months of washing with some of these other mouthwashes.

Another option comes in the form of steroid mouthwashes and these may make ones ulcers less painful and heal more quickly. However as is the case with antiseptic mouthwashes it is unclear whether this will stop you from getting ulcers in the future. Steroid mouthwashes come in many different application forms such as pastes, sprays, mouthwashes, creams and lozenges. Most of these can be brought from the pharmacy, however for some you will need to get a prescription from your dentist or doctor. Side effects are not common as the medicines are designed to not allow much of the steroid medication to go anywhere else in the body other than your mouth.

As pain is a very important symptom in dealing with mouth ulcers it is vital that there are painkillers that we can use to treat them. Many of these painkillers can be applied directly to the ulcers, however it is not clear exactly how they work. There is not that much evidence to say that they actually reduce the pain caused by ulcers and they come off very easily and so will have to keep being reapplied.

Can I do anything for myself?

There are certainly things that you can do for yourself in order to attempt to avoid getting ulcers in the future, however it is not clear how effective they are. You should certainly clean your teeth thoroughly three times a day to avoid getting infections. You should ask the dentist what toothbrush you should use as a wrong sized toothbrush can lead to mouth injuries that result in ulcers. You should avoid fizzy drinks or other drinks containing acid when you have ulcers and you should avoid sharp or spicy food. Stress may cause mouth ulcers and so you should work on learning how to be more stress free. Also giving up smoking will decrease your risk of getting mouth ulcers.


If you suffer from recurrent mouth ulcers or if you have an ulcer that is causing you pain for more than a week, you should see your doctor for some treatment options. Ulcers are very painful and this can be very distressing and you should take painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen for the pain. Ulcers of the mouth are certainly more common in young adults and teenagers and may decrease in frequency, as you get older, however this is not always the case.

Other articles you may be interested in...