Before we jump into how to avoid mouth ulcers, you need to understand what they are. There are different types of mouth ulcers; consequently, understanding which ones you’re suffering from will help you seek proper treatment. If you’re affected by mouth ulcers due to genetics, there are ways to prevent them that we’ll cover here.
What are Mouth Ulcers?
Mouth ulcers are small and sometimes painful lesions. They can appear on the base of your gums or the inside of your mouth. They are usually red or yellow in colour and range from 2mm to 8mm in size.
Unlike cold sores, they aren’t contagious and usually aren’t caused by a virus. You can trust them to clear up on their own within a couple of weeks, but they can make talking, eating, and drinking a little painful and uncomfortable. Another term for mouth ulcers is ‘canker sores,’ and generally, there are three types:
Minor Mouth Ulcers
Given their name, minor canker sores are the most common. They are usually a small, rounded oval shape. Many compare them to the top of a pencil. They can appear on the tongue and gums, on the lips, inside the cheeks, and sometimes on the roof of the mouth. They can come individually or in clusters of between four and six. Minor canker sores heal without treatment within two weeks and don’t cause scarring.
Major Mouth Ulcers
The main difference between minor and major mouth ulcers is their size. Major canker sores penetrate a lot deeper into the tissue than minor ones, meaning that when they do eventually leave, they are more likely to leave behind scar tissue. They also have irregular edges and are often raised in comparison to minor ulcers. They can appear in all the same places as minor mouth ulcers and additionally also appear near the tonsils, which makes it difficult and painful to swallow. Major mouth ulcers take up to six weeks to heal, although if any ulcer takes longer than three weeks to heal, you should consult your doctor or dentist.
Herpetiform Mouth Ulcers
Despite their name, herpetiform mouth ulcers are not a form of herpes. They get their name because they resemble the herpes infection. Like herpes, herpetiform mouth ulcers are the size of a pinpoint and come in clusters between 10 and 100. Like major mouth ulcers, they have irregular edges, but they don’t penetrate the tissue as deeply. This means that when they heal, there won’t be any scarring. Although they will heal on their own within a couple of weeks, these types of canker sores are known to recur frequently.
Mouth Ulcer Causes
Although mouth ulcers may appear at random, there are many risk factors and potential triggers that make it more likely for them to occur. Some of the most common causes of canker sores are:
- Gender – women are considered to be more at risk of developing mouth ulcers than men.
- Age – it is especially common for adolescents to experience mouth ulcers.
- Genetics – if you have a family history of canker sores, this makes you a lot more likely to develop them yourself.
- You might be allergic to certain types of mouth bacteria, so when you come into contact with them, mouth ulcers will occur as part of an allergic reaction.
- Quitting smoking.
- If you are deficient in certain vitamins like zinc, folate, iron, and B-12.
- Apparatus that might rub against the mouth or gums like braces or ill-fitting dentures.
- Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections.
- If you have a lower immune system.
- The use of medication like beta-blockers or painkillers.
- Using mouthwash or toothpaste that contains sodium lauryl sulphate.
- A minor mouth injury from accidental bites, hard brushing, or sports.
- Sensitivity to spicy foods, ‘trigger foods’ like chocolate and coffee or other acidic foods like strawberries, pineapples, and citrus fruits.
- Stress, anxiety, or other periods of emotional intensity.
- If you suffer from Crohn’s or Celiac Disease.
- Hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, puberty, or the menopause.
How to Prevent Mouth Ulcers
As you can see, there are many reasons why you might end up with mouth ulcers, and it is worth bearing in mind that the above list is far from exhaustive.
However, there are steps you can take to prevent mouth ulcers, which is especially helpful if you believe that you are prone to them or have experienced canker sores in the past:
- If you have dental or orthodontic devices with sharp edges, you can get your dentist to supply wax to cover these edges and avoid any minor injuries.
- To reduce accidental bites to your cheek or inner-mouth, try to avoid talking while chewing.
- Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing after every meal, but avoid soft-bristle toothbrushes and mouthwash/toothpaste that contains lauryl sulfate.
- Try to reduce stress and get plenty of rest and sleep.
- Talk to your doctor about medications that can cause mouth ulcers.
- Avoid any known past triggers.
- Eat a good, balanced diet with lots of wholegrain and alkaline (non-acidic) fruits and vegetables.
- Take daily multivitamins in conjunction with a balanced diet.
Treatment Options for Mouth Ulcers
It can sometimes be impossible to avoid mouth ulcers due to some unavoidable factors like your genetics, hormones, and immune systems. But there are ways to treat your mouth ulcers at home such as:
- Using over-the-counter topical aesthetics like Anbesol or Orajel.
- Using a mouth rinse containing steroids designed to reduce pain and swelling.
- Making your mouth rinse at home with saltwater and baking soda.
- Trying various natural remedies like myrrh, echinacea, chamomile tea and licorice root.
- Applying one of the following directly to your canker sore: baking soda paste, milk of magnesia, teabags, ice, or other topical pastes.
Ultimately, although mouth ulcers might look unpleasant or feel uncomfortable, you can be assured of the fact that most of the time, it goes away on its own and doesn’t require any further medical care.
It’s always important to remember when it’s time to consult a doctor. If your ulcer goes on for more than three weeks, comes in conjunction with any other symptoms, causes significant pain, returns frequently, or can be classified as a major mouth ulcer, you need to speak with your doctor.