Pain or discomfort in your mouth is not always tooth-related. Sometimes an ulcer may be the cause. An ulcer is a break in the tissue that lines your mouth or the membrane covering your tongue.
There are two classes of mouth ulcer: recurring and once-off. Each can have various causes.
Recurring mouth ulcers
One cause of recurring mouth ulcers is a condition called recurrent apthous stomatitis (RAS). It is thought that various factors – including genetics, stress or even immune status – may bring this on. Attacks typically occur in childhood and peak in adolescence or early adult life. They usually occur at regular intervals. The size and number of such ulcers can vary. If your ulcers fall into this category, your dentist can prescribe topical ointments and / or mouth rinses to help alleviate your discomfort, decrease inflammation and promote healing.
Different autoimmune conditions, such as Sjogrens, lupus or mucocutanous disorders, may also be the cause of recurring mouth ulcers. If you suffer from any of these ailments, again your dentist can prescribe topical ointments and / or mouth rinses.
One-off mouth ulcers
The main cause of a one-off mouth ulcer is trauma (or injury) – from biting your tongue, lip or cheek, or from hot foods or drinks; sharp or rough objects such as hard foods; nail biting; or sharp teeth, fillings or ill-fitting dentures. These ulcers usually heal within two to three days after the trauma occurred or the cause has been removed.
It is common for mouth ulcers to develop in people who are run down or suffering a viral infection. These ulcers usually subside when the illness has passed.
Different medications can also cause mouth sores. If the onset of your ulcers coincides with taking a new medication, you should see your doctor as an alternative medication may be needed.
A more serious cause of mouth sores can be oral cancer. Risk factors for oral cancer include smoking, alcohol and sun damage. These ulcers may not always be painful and they usually occur on the lower lip and the side of the tongue.
If you are experiencing an ulcer of unknown cause and it has not healed within 10 days of onset, you are advised to visit your dentist or doctor for an examination.
Dr Lucy Burchall
BHSc (Dent), MDent (La Trobe)
General Dental Care