Mouth ulcers — also known as canker sores or tongue ulcers— are normally small, painful lesions that develop in your mouth or at the base of your gums. They can make eating, drinking, and talking uncomfortable.
Women, adolescents, and people with a family history of mouth ulcers are at higher risk for developing mouth ulcers.
Mouth ulcers aren’t contagious and usually go away within one to two weeks. However, if you get a canker sore that is large or extremely painful, or if it lasts for a long time without healing, you should seek the advice of a doctor.
What triggers mouth ulcers?
There is no definite cause behind mouth ulcers. However, certain factors and triggers have been identified. These include:
minor mouth injury from dental work, hard brushing, sports injury, or accidental bite
toothpaste and mouth rinses that contain sodium lauryl sulfate
food sensitivities to acidic foods like strawberries, citrus, and pineapples, and other trigger foods like chocolate and coffee
lack of essential vitamins, especially B-12, zinc, folate, and iron
allergic response to mouth bacteria
hormonal changes during menstruation
emotional stress or lack of sleep
bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
Mouth ulcers also can be a sign of conditions that are more serious and require medical treatment, such as:
Celiac disease (a condition in which the body is unable to tolerate gluten)
inflammatory bowel disease
Behcet’s disease (a condition that causes inflammation throughout the body)
a malfunctioning immune system that causes your body to attack the healthy mouth cells instead of viruses and bacteria
What symptoms are associated with mouth ulcers?
There are three types of canker sores: minor, major, and herpetiform.
Minor canker sores are small oval or round ulcers that heal within one to two weeks with no scarring.
Major canker sores are larger and deeper than minor ones. They have irregular edges and can take up to six weeks to heal. Major mouth ulcers can result in long-term scarring.
Herpetiform canker sores are pinpoint size, occur in clusters of 10 to 100, and often affect adults. This type of mouth ulcer has irregular edges and will often heal without scarring within one to two weeks.
You should see a doctor if you develop any of the following:
unusually large mouth ulcers
new mouth ulcers before the old ones heal
sores that persist more than three weeks
sores that are painless
mouth ulcers that extend to the lips
pain that can’t be controlled with over-the-counter or natural medication
severe problems eating and drinking
high fever or diarrhea whenever the canker sores appear