What causes and how to treat mouth ulcers?

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Mouth ulcers, also known as canker sores or oral sores, are painful lesions that can develop inside the mouth. They can be quite bothersome, making it difficult to eat, drink, or even speak comfortably. If you’re suffering from mouth ulcers, you’re probably wondering what causes them and how to treat them effectively. In this article, we will explore the causes of mouth ulcers, discuss various treatment options, and provide tips on how to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Causes of Mouth Ulcers

Mouth ulcers can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Minor injuries to the mouth, such as accidentally biting your cheek or tongue
  • Acidic or spicy foods that irritate the delicate tissues in the mouth
  • Poor oral hygiene, which can lead to bacterial infections
  • Stress or anxiety, which can weaken the immune system and make you more susceptible to mouth ulcers
  • Hormonal changes, particularly in women during their menstrual cycle
  • Nutritional deficiencies, such as a lack of vitamin B12, iron, or folic acid
  • Underlying medical conditions, such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease

It’s important to note that mouth ulcers are not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person.

Treatment Options for Mouth Ulcers

While mouth ulcers can be painful and uncomfortable, they usually heal on their own within one to two weeks. However, there are several treatment options available to help alleviate the pain and promote faster healing:

1. Over-the-counter Medications

There are various over-the-counter gels, creams, and mouthwashes specifically designed to provide relief from mouth ulcers. These products often contain ingredients like benzocaine or hydrogen peroxide, which can numb the area and reduce inflammation. Follow the instructions on the packaging carefully and apply the medication as directed.

2. Saltwater Rinse

A simple and effective home remedy for mouth ulcers is a saltwater rinse. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and swish it around your mouth for 30 seconds before spitting it out. This can help reduce inflammation and promote healing.

3. Topical Steroids

If your mouth ulcers are severe or persistent, your doctor may prescribe a topical steroid ointment or gel. These medications can help reduce inflammation and speed up the healing process. Apply the medication directly to the ulcer as directed by your healthcare provider.

4. Avoid Irritants

During the healing process, it’s important to avoid irritants that can further aggravate the ulcers. This includes avoiding spicy or acidic foods, tobacco products, and alcohol. Stick to a soft, bland diet and drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

Preventing Mouth Ulcers

While it may not be possible to prevent mouth ulcers entirely, there are steps you can take to reduce their frequency and severity:

1. Practice Good Oral Hygiene

Brush your teeth twice a day, floss regularly, and use an antibacterial mouthwash to keep your mouth clean and free from bacteria. This can help prevent infections that may lead to mouth ulcers.

2. Avoid Trigger Foods

Pay attention to the foods that seem to trigger your mouth ulcers and try to avoid them. Spicy, acidic, or rough-textured foods can irritate the mouth and increase the likelihood of developing ulcers.

3. Manage Stress

Stress can weaken the immune system and make you more susceptible to mouth ulcers. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as practicing relaxation techniques, exercising regularly, or seeking support from friends and family.

4. Maintain a Healthy Diet

Eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals can help prevent nutritional deficiencies that may contribute to mouth ulcers. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins in your meals.

Home Remedies for Mouth Ulcers

In addition to the treatment options mentioned earlier, there are several home remedies that may provide relief from mouth ulcers:

1. Honey

Apply a small amount of honey directly to the ulcer. Honey has natural antibacterial properties and can help soothe the pain.

2. Aloe Vera Gel

Extract the gel from an aloe vera leaf and apply it to the ulcer. Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties and can promote healing.

3. Chamomile Tea

Brew a cup of chamomile tea, allow it to cool, and use it as a mouthwash. Chamomile has soothing properties and can help reduce inflammation.

4. Baking Soda Paste

Mix a small amount of baking soda with water to form a paste and apply it to the ulcer. Baking soda can help neutralize acidity and reduce pain.

Remember, while these home remedies may provide temporary relief, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional if your mouth ulcers persist or worsen.


Mouth ulcers can be painful and disruptive, but with the right treatment and preventive measures, you can find relief and reduce their occurrence. Remember to practice good oral hygiene, avoid irritants, manage stress, and maintain a healthy diet. If your mouth ulcers persist or become increasingly painful, it’s always best to seek medical advice. By taking care of your oral health and overall well-being, you can minimize the impact of mouth ulcers and enjoy a pain-free mouth.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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