Q. What are mouth ulcers?
A. Ulcers are sores that appear inside the mouth and can be itchy or painful. A recurrent ulcer is one that comes and goes, sometimes every few weeks. They are different from cold sores, which appear on the outer lips and are due to a virus infection.
Q. Are they common?
A. Yes. Over 60% of the population have recurrent oral ulcers at some time in their lives. Often they begin in childhood but most people grow out of them by their late 20’s. In many cases several members of the family may suffer from these ulcers, which can be due to a family tendency and not infection.
Q. Where and how can they appear?
A. Minor ulcers can appear inside the cheeks, on the lips, tongue, gums and more rarely the roof of the mouth. Most of these ulcers (minor type) are the size of the top of a pencil and can sometimes come in clusters.
Large ulcers (major type) may appear near the tonsils and can be very painful, especially when swallowing.
It is possible to have up to 100 very small ulcers (herpetiform type). However these last two varieties are very rare. You may get ulcers in other parts of the body e.g. eyes or genital area. It is important to tell your dentist about this.
Q. How long do they last?
A. The ulcer is usually preceded by an itchy feeling at the spot where it is due to appear. After 6-24 hours an ulcer forms and can last 7-10 days. The very large ones often take up to six weeks to heal.
Q. What causes mouth ulcers?
A. Recurrent mouth ulcers cannot be caught by kissing or sharing drinks and utensils, as they are not caused by infection. They may be an autoimmune disease caused by the body attacking the cells lining the mouth.
It has been suggested that the following factors have a role in causing mouth ulcers:
• Too little iron or a lack of vitamins, especially B6, B12, C & Folic Acid in the diet – Try vitamin supplements
• Bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
• Coeliac disease (gluten sensitivity)
• Hormonal changes; many women get ulcers at the time of their period or during menopause
• Certain foods, eg chocolate, cheese, processed foods, citrus fruit, strawberries. If you notice ulcers after certain foods try to avoid the food in question.