Mouth Ulcers: Types, Causes, Prevention and Cure

Aditi Shenai

June 8, 2023

Mouth ulcers, also known as oral ulcers or canker sores, are small, painful sores that develop inside the mouth. They can occur on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, or the roof of the mouth. While they are usually harmless and tend to heal on their own within a week or two, they can cause discomfort and make it difficult to eat or speak.

By providing a comprehensive overview of mouth ulcers, this article aims to empower readers with the knowledge to identify, manage, and prevent this common oral condition. Whether you are seeking relief from the discomfort of an existing ulcer or aiming to prevent its occurrence, this article will serve as a valuable resource for understanding and dealing with mouth ulcers effectively.

Causes Of Mouth Ulcers 

Mouth ulcers are a common oral condition that affects a significant portion of the population. The prevalence tends to be higher in certain groups, such as adolescents and young adults.

Several factors can contribute to the development of mouth ulcers. The exact cause may vary from person to person, but some common triggers and factors include

  1. Injury: Accidental biting of the cheek or tongue, dental procedures, or aggressive tooth brushing can cause tissue damage and lead to the formation of ulcers.
  1. Certain foods: Research shows that spicy or acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, or chocolate, can irritate the delicate tissues in the mouth and trigger the development of ulcers in susceptible individuals.
  1. Hormonal changes: Some individuals may experience mouth ulcers during hormonal fluctuations, such as menstruation.
  1. Stress and anxiety: Emotional stress and anxiety can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to developing mouth ulcers as stated in this study.
  1. Nutritional deficiencies: Lack of essential nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron, and folic acid, can contribute to the occurrence of mouth ulcers.
  1. Autoimmune conditions: Certain autoimmune disorders, such as Behçet’s disease or celiac disease, are associated with a higher risk of developing recurrent mouth ulcers.
  1. Infections: Viral or bacterial infections, such as herpes simplex virus (HSV) or oral thrush (caused by Candida fungus), can lead to the formation of ulcers in the mouth.
  1. Genetic Predisposition: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to developing mouth ulcers, making them more susceptible to their occurrence.

Types of Mouth Ulcers

I. Canker Sores (Aphthous Ulcers)

Symptoms and Characteristics

  • Small, round or oval-shaped sores with a white or yellowish centre and a red border.
  • Pain or discomfort, especially while eating or drinking.
  • Tenderness or a burning sensation at the site of the ulcer.
  • Typically heals within 1 to 2 weeks without scarring.

Triggers and Risk Factors

  • Minor mouth injuries such as accidental biting or aggressive brushing.
  • Certain foods, including citrus fruits, spicy or salty foods, and chocolate.
  • Hormonal changes, stress, or emotional factors.
  • Nutritional deficiencies, such as iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid.
  • Family history of canker sores.

Treatment Options and Self-Care Tips

  • Over-the-counter topical gels or ointments to alleviate pain and promote healing.
  • Prescription mouth rinses or corticosteroid preparations for severe cases.
  • Avoiding trigger foods and maintaining good oral hygiene.
  • Using a soft-bristled toothbrush and practising gentle brushing.
  • Rinsing the mouth with salt water or baking soda solution for temporary relief.
  • Applying ice or over-the-counter numbing gels to reduce pain.

II. Cold Sores (Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1)

Symptoms and Transmission

  • Fluid-filled blisters or sores that appear on or around the lips, mouth, or nose.
  • Tingling or burning sensation before the blisters appear.
  • As per research, cold sores are highly contagious and can be spread through direct contact, such as kissing or sharing utensils.

Factors that Trigger Outbreaks

  • Stress, fatigue, or emotional disturbances.
  • Exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  • Weakened immune system due to illness or medication.
  • Menstruation or hormonal changes.
  • Trauma or injury to the affected area.

Medical Treatments and Home Remedies

  • Antiviral medications (prescription or over-the-counter) to reduce the severity and duration of outbreaks.
  • Topical creams or ointments to alleviate pain and promote healing.
  • Avoiding triggers, such as prolonged sun exposure or stress.
  • Applying cold compresses or ice to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Keeping the affected area clean and avoiding touching or picking at the sores.
  • Using over-the-counter lip balms with sunscreen to protect against UV exposure.

III. Oral Thrush (Candidiasis)

Causes and Risk Factors

  • Overgrowth of Candida fungus (usually Candida albicans) in the mouth.
  • Weakened immune system, such as in individuals with HIV/AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy.
  • Antibiotic use that disrupts the natural balance of microorganisms in the mouth.
  • Poor oral hygiene.
  • Ill-fitting dentures or dental appliances.

Symptoms and Complications

  • Creamy white lesions on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, or throat.
  • Redness or soreness in the affected areas.
  • Difficulty swallowing or altered taste sensation.
  • In severe cases, the infection may spread to the oesophagus.

Treatment Options and Preventive Measures

  • Antifungal medications (oral or topical) to eliminate the Candida fungus.
  • Maintaining good oral hygiene, including regular brushing and flossing.
  • Removing and cleaning dentures properly.
  • Avoid excessive sugar consumption.
  • Seeking treatment for underlying medical conditions that weaken the immune system.
  • Rinsing the mouth with salt water or diluted hydrogen peroxide solution to soothe symptoms.


Mouth ulcers come in different forms, including canker sores, cold sores, and oral thrush. Canker sores are small, painful sores that heal within a week or two. They can be triggered by trauma, certain foods, hormonal changes, and stress. Treatment includes topical gels, mouth rinses, and avoiding triggers. Cold sores, caused by the herpes simplex virus, appear as fluid-filled blisters and are contagious. Outbreaks can be triggered by stress, sunlight, or a weakened immune system. Antiviral medications, creams, and home remedies can help manage cold sores. Oral thrush is a fungal infection characterized by white lesions. Antifungal medications, good oral hygiene, and addressing underlying issues are key for treatment and prevention.

Possible Complications of Untreated Mouth Ulcers

Untreated mouth ulcers can lead to various complications, including:

  1. Infection: If the ulcers become infected, it can result in a more severe and prolonged healing process.
  1. Persistent Pain: Some ulcers may not heal within the expected time frame, causing prolonged pain and discomfort.
  1. Difficulty Eating and Speaking: Large or multiple ulcers can make it challenging to eat, drink, or speak properly.
  1. Scarring: In some cases, particularly with deeper or severe ulcers, scarring may occur after healing, leading to long-term tissue damage.

Signs that Require Immediate Medical Attention

While most mouth ulcers heal on their own without medical intervention, certain signs may indicate the need for urgent care. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience:

  1. Prolonged Duration: If the ulcers do not show signs of improvement after two weeks or if they persist for an extended period.
  1. Severe Pain: If the pain is severe and not relieved by over-the-counter pain medications or home remedies.
  1. Excessive Swelling: Unusual swelling affects your eating, drinking, or breathing ability.
  1. High Fever: If you develop a high fever along with the ulcers, it could indicate an underlying infection.
  1. Difficulty Swallowing or Breathing: If the ulcers are causing significant difficulty in swallowing or breathing, seek immediate medical help.
  1. Spreading or Worsening Symptoms: If the ulcers are spreading rapidly or the symptoms are worsening despite self-care measures.

It is important to note that these signs may indicate a more severe underlying condition or infection, requiring prompt medical attention. If you are unsure or concerned about your mouth ulcers, it is always best to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Prevention Strategies For Mouth Ulcers 

I. Lifestyle Changes to Reduce the Risk of Mouth Ulcers

  1. Get Adequate Sleep: Prioritize quality sleep to support a strong immune system and overall well-being.
  1. Practice Gentle Oral Habits: Avoid habits like biting your nails, chewing on pens, or using sharp objects in the mouth that can cause oral injuries.
  1. Manage Stress: Engage in stress-reducing activities such as exercise, meditation, or yoga to minimize stress levels, which can weaken the immune system.
  1. Quit Smoking: Smoking can irritate the mouth and increase the risk of developing mouth ulcers. Quitting smoking is beneficial for overall oral health.
  1. Limit Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can irritate the mouth lining. Moderation is key to reducing the risk of ulcers.

II. Maintaining Good Oral Hygiene Practices

  1. Brush Regularly: Brush your teeth at least twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Proper oral hygiene helps prevent oral infections.
  1. Floss Daily: Clean between your teeth with dental floss or interdental cleaners to remove food particles and plaque.
  1. Replace Toothbrush: Replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if the bristles are frayed.
  1. Visit the Dentist: Regular dental check-ups allow for early detection and treatment of any oral health issues.
  1. Use Mouthwash: Rinse with an antimicrobial mouthwash to help reduce oral bacteria and maintain oral health.

III. Dietary Modifications and Avoiding Triggers

  1. Avoid Trigger Foods: Identify and avoid foods that trigger mouth ulcers in your case. Common triggers include spicy, acidic, or rough-textured foods.
  1. Maintain a Balanced Diet: Consume a nutritious diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support overall oral health.
  1. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep the mouth moist and prevent dryness, which can contribute to ulcers.
  1. Be Mindful of Dental Injuries: Take care while eating to avoid accidentally biting your tongue, cheeks, or lips.
  1. Use Protective Gear: If you participate in sports or activities that may result in oral injuries, use appropriate mouthguards or protective equipment.

HealthifyMe Suggestion 

Mouth Ulcers can occur frequently if you eat a lot of spicy or sour food or have a tendency to bite the inside of your cheeks or lips. While this can be painful, these do tend to go away quickly. Avoid extremely hot, spicy and sour foods during this time and avoid running your tongue over the sore spot repeatedly.


Mouth ulcers can be a bothersome condition, but with proper understanding and preventive measures, their occurrence can be minimized. By maintaining good oral hygiene, making dietary adjustments, and avoiding triggers, individuals can reduce the risk of developing ulcers. Prompt treatment and self-care strategies can help alleviate symptoms and promote healing. However, it is important to seek medical attention if complications arise or if urgent symptoms are present. With a proactive approach to oral health and timely intervention, individuals can effectively manage mouth ulcers and improve their quality of life. Remember to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice and guidance tailored to your specific situation.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is just to disperse knowledge and raise awareness. It does not intend to replace medical advice from professionals. For further information please contact our certified nutritionists Here

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What causes mouth ulcers? 

Mouth ulcers can be caused by various factors such as injury or trauma to the mouth, certain foods or drinks that irritate the mouth lining, hormonal changes, stress, nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune conditions, infections, and genetic predisposition.

Q. How to treat mouth ulcers? 

Treatment for mouth ulcers usually focuses on relieving symptoms and promoting healing. Over-the-counter topical gels or ointments can provide pain relief. Rinsing with salt water or a baking soda solution may help soothe the ulcers. In severe cases, a healthcare professional may prescribe mouth rinses, corticosteroids, or other medications to reduce inflammation and promote healing.

Q. Why do mouth ulcers happen? 

The exact cause of mouth ulcers can vary from person to person. They can be triggered by factors such as injury, certain foods, hormonal changes, stress, nutrient deficiencies, immune system disorders, infections, or genetic factors. Understanding the underlying cause can help in managing and preventing its occurrence.

Q. How to get rid of mouth ulcers fast? 

While there is no guaranteed way to get rid of mouth ulcers overnight, there are steps you can take to promote faster healing. These include maintaining good oral hygiene, avoiding spicy or acidic foods, using over-the-counter topical gels or ointments for pain relief, and keeping the mouth clean by rinsing with salt water or a baking soda solution. However, it’s important to note that individual healing times may vary.

Q. What is the reason for mouth ulcers? 

Mouth ulcers can have various reasons, including injury or trauma to the mouth, certain foods or drinks that irritate the mouth lining, hormonal changes, stress, nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune conditions, infections, or genetic factors. Identifying the specific reason for mouth ulcers may require a medical evaluation.

Q. How to cure mouth ulcers in one day? 

Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to cure mouth ulcers in just one day. Most mouth ulcers heal on their own within one to two weeks. However, you can help alleviate symptoms and promote healing by using over-the-counter topical gels or ointments, maintaining good oral hygiene, avoiding irritants, and rinsing with salt water or a baking soda solution. If you have concerns or the ulcers persist, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.

Reference Links

  1. The effect of dietary habits on the development of recurrent aphthous stomatitis:
  1. Prevalence and psychological stress in recurrent aphthous stomatitis among female dental students in Saudi Arabia:
  1. Cold sores: Overview:

About the Author

M.Sc in: Dietetics and Applied Nutrition from Manipal University. Worked: All over India and have been involved in helping set up nutrition departments in start ups. Interested in lifestyle based nutrition. Mantra: A healthy lifestyle isn't a choice to be made or discarded, it's a way of life!

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