Mouth ulcers are erosions of a part of the mucous membrane, a delicate tissue that lines the inside of the mouth. Causes include infectious diseases, certain drugs and chemicals, but the most common cause is accidentally biting your cheek.
Most ulcers are harmless and resolve on their own within 1-2 weeks. Ulcers can be recurring, however. Recurring ulcers with no known cause affect about 20 percent of the population. Make sure you request an emergency dental appointment if your mouth ulcers do not clear up within a few days.
Mouth ulcer causes
The cause of recurrent mouth ulcers is still not clear. Some believe that it may be associated with your genes that make you more likely to develop ulcers from certain triggers. This is mainly because 40 percent of people with recurrent ulcers state that it runs in their family
Factors that trigger mouth ulcers include:
- Sodium lauryl sulphate, often found in toothpastes
- Hormonal changes
- Certain foods such as nuts, sweets, sugar and salty snacks and acidic foods
Mouth ulcers can be caused by underlying medical conditions
Sometimes an underlying medical condition may be the cause:
- Viral infections. These include cold sore virus, chickenpox and hand, foot and mouth disease
- Vitamin B12 deficiency. This leads to the production of abnormally large red blood cells that aren’t able to function properly
- Iron deficiency anaemia. Lack of iron in the blood reduces the amount of oxygen that reach all parts of your body
- Crohn’s disease. This is caused by the inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract
- Coeliac disease. This is a digestive disorder that occurs in response to the protein, gluten
- Reactive arthritis. Usually as a reaction to infections, this is a condition that leads to inflammation in many body parts
- Immunodeficiency. The body’s immune system is compromised from HIV, lupus or other conditions
- Lichen planus. This is a non-infectious rash that’s itchy and may affect multiple regions of the body
- Behçet’s disease. Behçet’s disease isn’t a very well understood condition but it is known to cause inflammation of the blood vessels
Mouth Ulcers can be caused by Medications and treatments
Certain medications or treatment may cause mouth ulcers, examples include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
- Nicorandil – a medication for angina
- Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy
- Beta-blockers used for a variety of conditions related to the heart and blood flow, such as high blood pressure, angina and abnormal heart rhythms
Talk to your GP if you think a medication or treatment is triggering your ulcers. The doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative, reduce dosage or offer a medication for your ulcers.
Mouth Ulcers could indicate oral cancer
In some rarer cases, long-term ulceration could indicate a mouth cancer. Usually mouth ulcers caused by cancer appear on or under the tongue; however, they may occur elsewhere in the mouth a well.
Males, particularly those over 45 have a higher risk of developing oral cancer. People who drink and smoke heavily are also at risk. Detecting and treating mouth cancer early increases chances of full recovery, which is why regular check-ups with the dentist are always recommended.