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What causes mouth ulcers?

Get on the quickest road to recovery with everything you need to know about mouth ulcers.

Nothing takes the joy out of enjoying a meal like a mouth ulcer. Even simple daily tasks like brushing your teeth, or having a conversation can become uncomfortable. So what are mouth ulcers, and why do we get them?

Mouth ulcers are small lesions or sores that appear in your mouth. They can be inside your lips or cheeks, and on your gums or tongue. They can be mildly uncomfortable, to very painful and irritating, especially when aggravated – for example when chewing or talking. Spicy, or hot food and drink can make things worse, so if you’ve got an ulcer – skip the chilli!

What causes mouth ulcers?

Watch Medibank expert Dr Kelly Tse explains what can cause mouth ulcers, as well as treatment and prevention strategies.

Mouth ulcers are often caused by the simplest thing; such as accidentally biting your cheek or burning your mouth on hot food. Aside from accidents and mouth injuries, ulcers can also be caused by;

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Poorly fitted dentures or braces
  • Hormonal changes
  • Food sensitivities or a reaction to certain medications such a chemotherapy drugs
  • Certain conditions, like diabetes or tuberculosis

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How do I prevent mouth ulcers?

While we can’t always avoid getting mouth ulcers, there are a few simple ways to help prevent them. Good oral hygiene, and getting enough sleep are also ways to maintain your overall health and wellbeing, and minimise stress or anxiety. It’s also important to manage any underlying conditions that may make you more susceptible to mouth ulcers, like diabetes. Eating a nutritious diet with lots of fresh fruit and veggies gives your body the right fuel to heal mouth ulcers as quickly as possible.

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How do I treat mouth ulcers?

While ulcers are healing, try not to touch the sore area. This may disturb the healing process, potentially cause an infection, or even spread an existing one. If you do need to touch the area, make sure you wash your hands before and after.

Mouth ulcers are generally harmless and should heal on their own within one to two weeks. During this time it’s a good idea to avoid any hot food or drink – this may irritate them more – ouch!

If your ulcers are painful or irritating, you can do a few things to help soothe them. Try gargling salt water (make sure you don’t swallow it), or drinking cool water can help. If the ulcers are particularly sore there are also a number of over the counter treatments available, which your pharmacist can help with – like antiseptic gel or medicated mouthwash. Paracetamol may also help with the pain and inflammation. If they haven’t healed within one to two weeks, appear frequently, or you are concerned about them – see your GP.

Learn more about common health conditions in our What Causes series.

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