Mouth Ulcers: Causes, Treatments and When to See a Doctor

If you have painful mouth ulcers that appear on the tongue or inside the cheeks or lips and bleed, it’s important to know what causes them, what treatment options are available (such as topical treatments, rinsing, or medications), and whether they affect adults or children differently.

There may be several factors that contribute to the development of mouth ulcers, including infections, systemic medical conditions, mechanical or chemical irritants, or allergies. Sometimes, it may be difficult to determine the exact cause. However, there are many available treatments that can be effective regardless of the underlying cause.

Common causes of mouth ulcers include:

  • Recurrent aphthous stomatitis (canker sores)
  • Viral infections – such as herpes, chickenpox, or shingles
  • Bacterial or fungal infections
  • Trauma or irritation – such as accidental biting or scratches from dental appliances or sharp foods
  • Tobacco use
  • Certain medications
  • Radiation or chemotherapy treatments
  • Systemic medical conditions.

Viral Infections
Pathogenic viral organisms can frequently cause mouth ulcers. Herpes, for example, is a common infection that can cause ulcers. Other viruses can also cause mouth ulcers, such as chickenpox or shingles. Shingles can also cause pain in the jaw.

Bacterial Infections
Bacteria also cause swelling and inflammation. Pathogenic microorganisms that invade from the outside or live within human tissues actively grow and reproduce. Gonorrhea or syphilis are the most dangerous infectious processes whereas phlegmon is the most common. Usually, they’re accompanied by other more severe symptoms that cause great discomfort.

Candidial Fungi
These fungi are present in a dormant state in almost everyone, only getting activated and spreading to all cellular structures when a person takes antibiotics, corticosteroids, and when the immune system declines when serious illnesses occur.

Trauma or Irritation
Any traumatic action on the mucous lining of the mouth, e.g., due to accidental biting or scratches on the inside of the cheeks, due to rough edges of the crowns or dentures, can trigger an inflammatory process that causes ulcerative growths or sores.

Tobacco Use
Before treating the small white and red ulcers that develop on the oral mucosa of an adult, it’s important to determine if the individual is using tobacco products. If they are, inflammation is likely caused by the toxic and carcinogenic substances present in them, as well as other components in the product. Ulcers can also form from dryness of the mucous membranes, local increase in temperature, and alterations in the acid-base balance.

Medications and Radiation Therapy
Mouth ulcers can also arise from taking antibiotics or radiation therapy, or from consuming certain drugs. However, these instances are less common now, as pharmaceutical companies produce more effective drugs with fewer side reactions.

In Summary
Mouth ulcers are a relatively common and painful condition that can occur for various reasons. While they can be uncomfortable, they are generally not severe and can be treated with over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, or home remedies. If the condition persists or becomes severe, it’s essential to seek advice from a medical professional to receive appropriate treatment.

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