Mouth ulcers (sometimes referred to as aphthous ulcers or even canker sores) are small, but clearly defined round or oval sores that form within the mouth. And, to put it mildly, they are painful! These little beasts are very common, and most people will experience at least one in their lifetime. They are more common in women and in young adults, but they are not (despite popular belief) contagious. Unfortunately for the sufferer, it is possible to have several at once, and to suffer with ulcers over a long period of time. Read on to find out what our private doctors at LDC have to say about mouth ulcers...


Types of Mouth Ulcer:

There are three main types of mouth ulcers:

1. Minor Ulcers

The most common type, responsible for 80% of all cases. They are small and usually heal naturally within 2 weeks. They do not leave any long term damage to the skin.

2. Major Ulcers:

Larger and deeper than their minor counterparts, and usually have a raised or irregular border. They are usually 1cm or more in diameter. Major ulcers may take several weeks to heal and can cause skin scarring.

3. Herpetiform Ulcers

Herpetiform ulcers form as multiple, pinhead-sized sores. The number of ulcers can range from five to 100. These tiny ulcers often fuse together to form larger, irregular shaped sores, which are very painful.

They are not so common; around 5-10% of mouth ulcers are herpetiform. Despite their name, they are not related to the herpes virus.


Why Do I Get Mouth Ulcers?

Most single, minor mouth ulcers are caused by damage to the delicate skin inside the mouth. You may unintentionally, for example, bite the inside of your cheek, burn your mouth swallowing a hot drink, or have a jagged piece of tooth irritating the thin skin of the mouth.

The cause of recurring mouth ulcers is as yet unknown, but several theories have been put forward, and are listed here:

  • Stress or anxiety
  • Oral trauma
  • Hormonal changes
  • Eating certain foods
    • Some commonly implicated ones include chocolate, coffee, nuts or strawberries
  • Stopping smoking
    • Although fearing the development of mouth ulcers is not a reason to continue smoking!
  • Medications
    • Such as beta blockers, a commonly used medication that treats a variety of conditions relate to the heart and high blood pressure
  • Underlying medical conditions


Some medications are thought to cause recurring mouth ulcers 


Mouth Ulcers Symptoms

  • Your mouth ulcer will be round or oval in shape, and range in colour from grey to white
  • It may have a raised border
  • It can occur on the inside of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth, the tongue or the inside of the lips
  • It will be distracting and painful, and may be irritated when you eat or drink
  • Sometimes, in very severe cases, you may experience a fever, energy loss and swollen lymph nodes in the area


Mouth Ulcers: Should I See My GP?

You may suspect from your symptoms that you have a mouth ulcer, but be unable to see it. A mild or single ulcer will probably heal itself with time and self-care.

You should visit your doctors surgery if your symptoms are causing you severe discomfort, or get progressively worse. A mouth ulcer that seems to be non-healing with the passage of time is also an indicator that it is time to get some outside help.

It's especially important to seek medical advice if you have a persistent ulcer lasting three or more weeks, or with any red/white patches, as this could be a sign of mouth cancer

Your GP will want to hear all about your symptoms, and will look inside your mouth with a little light. He or she will probably know by inspection if it is a mouth ulcer or not. You may have further tests, such as blood tests, or be referred to a specialist if your GP suspects that you may have an underlying medication condition causing the ulcers, or if your particular sore warrants further investigation. Some people undergo a biopsy of their ulcer, which can help determine the cause of the ulcer.


Mouth Ulcer Treatment

As we have mentioned, most mouth ulcers will not require professional treatment, and will heal on their own.

If you have a mild mouth ulcer, there are things you can do yourself at home which may help you to feel more comfortable, and help your ulcer heal quicker. Try the following tips:

  • Avoid aggravating the ulcer: further damage will prolong healing time. Avoid using a hard toothbrush to brush your teeth, and stick to softer foods and cool drinks.
  • Seek relief: anti-microbial mouthwashes, topical numbing gels, and pain relief pills are available from your local pharmacy
  • Treat the cause of your ulcer – if you need dental work done, for example, having the necessary treatment will remove the cause of the ulcer
  • Limit (as much as possible) stress and anxiety in your life

If your condition is more severe, or recurrent, your GP will be able to prescribe certain medications for you. In addition to the pharmacy remedies above, you can try prescribed medications. The options include a type of medication called corticosteroids (which reduce inflammation), or stronger pain relief, such as benzydamine, which is available in mouthwash or spray form.

woman brushing teeth

Good oral hygiene is important in treating and preventing mouth ulcers 


Mouth Ulcer Prevention

Once your mouth ulcer is healed, it is important to take steps to reduce your chances of getting another one. Following our tips for treatment, outlined earlier in this article, in addition to good dental hygiene and attention to a healthy lifestyle, will ensure that your chances of being affected by this most uncomfortable affliction will remain low.

If you need any more information about mouth ulcers, why not book a doctors appointment with London Doctors Clinic. As always, if you're in search of a "GP near me", you are in luck - we have eight private clinics across central London with future and same day doctor appointments available! 

By Melissa Dillon