Visiting a DCN dentist can help determine underlying causes of mouth ulcers.

One of the most common oral complaints of all is the humble mouth ulcer, with up to one in five of us suffering from them.

Also known as canker sores, these uncomfortable occurrences seem to strike at the most inopportune of times, and may sometimes seriously affect our day-to-day life when they are at their fiercest. But just what are mouth ulcers, and how can they be treated?

What is a mouth ulcer?

According to the Victorian Government's Better Health Channel, a mouth ulcer is formed when the soft, delicate tissue within in our mouths - typically the lining of the cheeks, tongue or the roof of the mouth - is eroded away. Often, this will be because of accidental injury, such as biting your tongue or burning yourself with overly hot food. The injury manifests itself as a swollen, small white or red sore, which often leads to pain and discomfort.

Sometimes the occurrence of mouth ulcers is due to other underlying causes, such as a broader illness, or a compromised immune system. However, more often than not, they are simply caused by local trauma and will heal of their own accord within a week or two.

A mouth ulcer is formed when the soft, delicate tissue within in our mouths - typically the lining of the cheeks, tongue or roof of the mouths - becomes eroded away.

What causes mouth ulcers?

There are numerous causes behind mouth ulcers, which is to be expected in a condition so common. As mentioned, accidental injuries are the most likely cause of a mouth ulcer. Other causes include a sharp or misaligned tooth that constantly rubs the inner cheek that can break the delicate lining, as can burns from hot food or drinks.

It's not just injury that can cause mouth ulcers. Stress and underlying infections, such as both forms of the herpes simplex virus, oral thrush and a myriad of other infections can also be the underlying reason behind the formation of a mouth ulcer. Illnesses that negate the immune system, such as HIV or AIDS, can also lead to recurring outbreaks of canker sores. Mouth ulcers are incredibly common, so even if you suffer more frequent outbreaks, it does not mean that you are necessarily infected with a more serious condition. 

What are the symptoms of mouth ulcers?

The symptoms of mouth ulcers are pretty straightforward. There are three kinds of mouth ulcers, which are cause by a variety of factors, but they all share very similar traits. The most common type, the minor mouth ulcer, is by far and away the most common. According to Health Direct Australia, it's the kind that will have affected 80 per cent of people that have endured the oral condition.

The ulcer itself is a small, round sore embedded in the mouth, but it can often be indented and the same colour as the interior of the mouth itself. Around the ulcer, the skin will typically be swollen, and will be tender to the touch. This ulcer will be moderately painful, especially when touched or irritated. Sometimes, a mouth ulcer may be so painful that cleaning your teeth or eating particular foods will be difficult. This is especially apparent when eating foods replete in salt or spice, such as potato chips or curry.

Though tiny, a mouth ulcer can cause big discomfort.Though tiny, a mouth ulcer can cause big discomfort.

How can mouth ulcers be treated?

Thankfully, the vast majority of mouth ulcers are completely harmless and will fade a way after a week or two.  However, some of the more stubborn varieties may require treatment. Though mouth ulcers will heal of their own accord, this process cannot be sped up. However, their painful symptoms can often be dealt with via a range of easy-to-prepare home treatments.

First and foremost, it's imperative that you avoid foods that are likely to cause your mouth ulcer to flare up. Typically, these will be spicy or salty efforts, or ones of a sticky disposition such as chocolate. Rinsing out your mouth with warm water, a pinch of salt, will be painful upon first contact, but will dull feelings of discomfort soon afterwards. There are also numerous gels that can be used to numb your gums, making it easier to go about your daily activities.

As a last resort, stubborn ulcers can be controlled by pain-killers or anti-inflammatory drugs.

Can mouth ulcers be fully prevented?

Sadly, there is no known cure for mouth ulcers, and there is nothing to stop them from reoccurring, no matter what steps you seem to take. Thankfully, there are ways and means to stave them off, especially with regards to how often they spring up.

Alongside keeping an excellent standard of oral hygiene, you should try to keep away from foods that you know can trigger an outbreak. Relaxation may also help, as ulcers can sometimes be activated by stress. Using a soft brush to clean your teeth will be gentler on your mouth, lessening the risk of abrasion on the soft interior of your mouth.

What are the risks of untreated mouth ulcers?

Though the risks of leaving a mouth ulcer untreated is unlikely to bring you to any greater harm, if you have one that refuses to budge and won't leave after a couple of weeks, you should consult your doctor. This is because lingering mouth ulcers may be a sign of a more serious underlying cause, but there is no need to worry just yet - some mouth ulcers are simply more stubborn than others.

Who should I discuss my mouth ulcer problems with?

When it comes to all facets of your oral health, your dentist is the one who'll be able to offer you the most help. We at DCN recommend that you should try and go for a visit at least once every six months.

If an ulcer is particularly persistent, make an appointment as soon as possible. Not only will your DCN dentist be able to dole out something for your discomfort, they'll also be able to determine whether or not you'll need to visit a doctor with regards to an underlying condition.