An oral ulcer (from Latin ulcus) is the name for the appearance of an open sore inside the mouth caused by a break in the mucous membrane or the epithelium on the lips or surrounding the mouth. The types of oral ulcers are diverse, with a multitude of associated causes including: physical or chemical trauma, infection from microorganisms, medical conditions or medications and cancerous and sometimes nonspecific processes. Once formed, the ulcer may be maintained by inflammation and/or secondary infection. Two common oral ulcer types are aphthous ulcers (canker sores) and cold sores. Cold sores can be caused by the herpes simplex virus.
There are many processes which can lead to ulceration of the oral tissues. In some cases they are caused by an overreaction by the body's own immune system. Factors that appear to provoke them include stress
, fatigue, illness, injury from accidental biting, hormonal
, sudden weight loss, food allergies
and deficiencies in vitamin B12
and folic acid
. Oral ulcers are also a common result of ceased cigarette smoking, affecting about two out of five quitters.
Minor physical injuries
Trauma to the mouth is a common cause of oral ulcers. A sharp edge of a tooth, accidental biting (this can be particularly common with sharp canine teeth
), sharp or abrasive food (particularly if left overnight), poorly fitting dentures, dental braces
or trauma from a toothbrush may injure the mucosal lining of the mouth resulting in an ulcer. These ulcers usually heal at a moderate speed if the source of the injury is removed (for example, if poorly fitting dentures are removed or replaced)..
It is also common for these ulcers to occur after dental work, when incidental abrasions to the soft tissues of the mouth are common. Please warn your dentist of this before starting any dental work, so a protective layer of Vaseline can be used to minimize the number of incidental injuries to the soft mucosa tissues.
Chemicals such as aspirin
that are held or that come in contact with the oral mucosa may cause tissues to become necrotic and slough off creating an ulcerated surface.
Sodium lauryl sulfate
(SLS), one of the main ingredients in most toothpastes, has been implicated in increased incidence of oral ulcers.
Viral, fungal and bacterial processes can lead to oral ulceration.One way to contract pathogenic oral ulcerations is to touch your chapped lips without having washed your hands first.
The most common is Herpes simplex virus
which causes recurrent herpetiform ulcerations preceded by usually painful multiple vesicles which burst. Herpes Zoster
(shingles), Varicella Zoster
(chicken pox), Coxsackie A virus
and its associated subtype presentations, are some of the other viral processes that can lead to oral
ulceration. HIV creates immunodeficiencies which allow opportunistic infections or neoplasms to proliferate.
Bacterial processes leading to ulceration can be caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis
) and Treponema pallidum
Opportunistic activity by combinations of otherwise normal bacterial flora, such as aerobic streptococci, Neisseria, Actinomyces, spirochetes, and Bacteroides species can prolong the ulcerative process.
), Cryptococcus neoformans
), Blastomyces dermatitidis
("North American Blastomycosis
") are some of the fungal processes causing oral ulceration.
, a parasitic protozoan is sometimes known to cause mouth ulcers through formation of cysts
Many researchers view the causes of aphthous ulcers
as a common end product of many different disease processes, each of which is mediated by the immune system.
Aphthous ulcers are thought to form when the body becomes aware of and attacks chemicals which it does not recognize.
Repeat episodes of mouth ulcers can be indicative of an immunodeficiency
, signaling low levels of immunoglobulin in the oral mucous membranes. Chemotherapy
, and mononucleosis
are all causes of immunodeficiency with which oral ulcers become a common manifestation.
is also a cause of oral ulceration. Mucous membrane pemphigoid
, an autoimmune reaction to the epithelial basement membrane
, causes desquamation
/ulceration of the oral mucosa.
Contact with allergens
can lead to ulcerations of the mucosa.
deficiencies may lead to scurvy
which impairs wound healing, which can contribute to ulcer formation. Similarly deficiencies in vitamin B12
have been linked to oral ulceration.
A common cause of ulcers is Coeliac disease, in which case consumption of wheat, rye, or barley can result in chronic oral ulcers. If gluten sensitivity is the cause, prevention means following a gluten-free diet by avoiding most breads, pastas, baked goods, beers etc. and substituting gluten-free varieties where available. Artificial sugars, such as those found in diet cola and sugarless chewing gum, have been reported as causes of oral ulcers as well.
Use of flovent
without rinsing mouth out after use may cause an oral ulcer.
Oral cancers can lead to ulceration as the center of the lesion loses blood supply and necroses. Squamous cell carcinoma
is just one of these.
Medical conditions associated with mouth ulcers
The following medical conditions are associated with mouth ulcers:
The majority of the types of ulceration require treatment of the underlying cause of the oral ulceration for successful prevention; controlling imbalances in vitamins and minerals related to ulceration, managing or restricting the disease processes, and avoiding substances such as sodium laureth sulfate
(SLS) in toothpaste have shown to reduce the ulcerative process. For trauma related cases, avoiding the offending source will prevent ulceration, but since such trauma is usually accidental, this type of prevention is not usually practical.
Individuals who have a high incidence of opportunistic bacterial infections subsequent to an accidental oral injury (biting etc.) can prevent the injury from becoming infected by directly bathing the wound with an anti-bacterial mouthwash for one minute every 12 hours for 2 days; it is important to use a small vessel to contain the solution as most antibacterial mouth washes that remain in the mouth for a full minute will have detrimental effects such as a prolonged impairment to the sense of taste and the potential loss of otherwise desirable flora. Quantities around 1ml are more than sufficient. Ideally, the first treatment should occur within 3 hours.
is the primary approach to dealing with oral ulcers. If their cause is known, then treatment of that condition is also recommended. Adequate oral hygiene
may also help in relieving symptoms. Topical antihistamines
or applications meant to soothe painful ulcers may be helpful, and avoiding spicy
or hot foods may reduce pain. Ulcers persisting longer than three weeks may require the attention of a medical practitioner.
An effective home remedy that is prescribed in the ancient Indian
science of Ayurveda
is by applying fresh coconut oil
on the affected area.