One of the most common types of mouth ulcer is a canker sore. These are painful and annoying, but usually not harmful. Canker sores can appear almost anywhere inside your mouth. They usually are caused by minor health issues or changes in your body – for example, emotional stress, minor deficiencies in your diet, hormonal changes, or a viral infection. Canker sores can also result from excessive tooth brushing, or biting your tongue or cheek.
Canker sores and other mouth ulcers are usually nothing to worry about, and they usually go away on their own. Some people get canker sores more often than others; they often run in families.
How can I treat mouth ulcers?
Most mouth ulcers can be treated by improved oral hygiene. Try using a mouthwash or gargle – even a simple homemade mixture of salt and warm water. Flush the sore spot a few times a day and see if it gets better.
If you have severe discomfort from the mouth ulcer, talk to your dentist. Your dentist can recommend an over-the-counter topical ointment that you can rub directly onto the ulcer – for example, an antihistamine or antacid. If these don’t do the trick, your dentist can prescribe other more advanced treatment like corticosteroid medication.
Another way to relieve mouth ulcers is to avoid hot and spicy foods, as these tend to exacerbate the discomfort.
Mouth ulcers and oral cancer
It’s important to pay attention to what’s going on in your mouth. If you have an ulcer or sore spot in your mouth that won’t heal, you should call your dentist to get it looked at as soon as possible. Some mouth ulcers can be a sign of oral cancer – and oral cancer needs to be detected early so it can be treated.
If you have a sore or ulcer in your mouth that doesn’t go away on its own after 3 weeks, go see your dentist. Make sure to ask your dentist specifically about oral cancer – and if you’re not confident in your dentist’s ability to diagnose oral cancer, get a second opinion. If your dentist is concerned that the mouth ulcer may be a sign of oral cancer, you will need to get a biopsy of the affected area of your mouth.
I don’t mean to alarm anyone by writing this, but I can’t emphasize it enough: it is crucial to diagnose oral cancer in the early stages of the disease. If oral cancer is not caught early, it can lead to death. Oral cancer is one of the few types of cancer that have not had a decline in death rates during the past 20 years – it can be treated and cured, but if left undiagnosed it can be deadly.
Smokers, heavy drinkers and tobacco chewers are at the highest risk of getting oral cancer, but this type of cancer can occur in anyone. So be sure to pay attention to mouth ulcers when they happen – usually they’re nothing to worry about and will go away quickly, but if you have a bad mouth ulcer that has been around for awhile, it might be a sign of something much more serious.