When people speak of ulcer, the one that usually enters their mind is the gastrointestinal ulcer that most spicy food-loving, meal-skipping people experience. However, not everyone knows that you can also get ulcers in your mouth. Like its gastrointestinal counterpart, mouth ulcers manifest through sores that can be painful and uncomfortable. The term mouth ulcer is generally very broad and have diverse types. As most things go, a mouth ulcer is generally applied to anything that causes sores in or around your mouth. The two most common ones are cold sores and canker sores.
It starts out innocently enough: you feel a small tingling on your lip, and you feel a spot that you can’t see yet. Then, a day or two later, you suddenly notice the appearance of red blisters. It’s another cold sore attack and the worse part aside from the pain is that it’s plainly visible in your face and there’s really no way to hide it.
Cold sores are viral, that is, they are caused by a virus called the herpes simplex virus (HSV); it is the same virus that causes genital herpes, although the former is caused by the type 1 virus, while the latter is the result of type 2. A cold sore is contagious; direct contact with a person who has one will usually result with the transmission of the disease. It may also be spread through the sharing of utensils, razors, face towels, or any other means that may cause you to get the infected thing in contact with your mouth (Learn how to treat a cold sore).
When you first get infected, the virus may lie dormant in the nerve cells of your skin, in a place called a ganglion. It may happen that the virus will sometimes start multiplying again and go to the the skin, again causing new sores. Such recurrence may happen often or rarely but there is no specific pattern when it does.
Some cold sore patients have what is called a “prodome”; that is, they experience some symptoms before the actual appearance of the blisters. The prodome involves a tingling or burning sensation that pre-dates the appearance of the blister by a few hours, or a day or two. When the sores form, the area becomes reddened and small, fluid-filled blisters develop. The sores most commonly appear on your lips although occasionally, they can form on your nostrils or chin. Rarely, they can form inside your mouth, although this area is usually the domain of canker sores.
The sores usually do not require medication. They go away in about seven to 10 days, usually without any visible scars.
Canker sores are often confused by some people with cold sores, although the two are different diseases. While both cause lesions and sores to form in the mouth area and are categorized collectively as mouth ulcers, canker sores develop on the soft tissues in your mouth; they don’t occur on the surface of your lips or outside the mouth area. They are also non-contagious and while cold sores are viral in origin, there is still no definite cause for canker sores.
Even if the precise cause for canker sores is not clear, researchers think that it is a combination of several factors that contribute to their formation. These include:
- Overreaction of the immune system that causes it to attack the healthy cells in your mouth instead of the pathogens
- Minor physical injuries or trauma formed due to mishaps, overzealous brushing, or an accidental bite
- Chemical injuries such as those caused by aspirin or alcohol
- An allergic response caused by bacteria in the mouth
- Diseases such as celiac disease, Behcet’s disease, Crohn’s disease, and even HIV
Canker sores manifest themselves as round or oval, with a white, sometimes yellow, center outlined by a red border. They are found inside the mouth, usually inside the cheeks or lips, the base of the gums, and on or under the tongue. They can be minor sores or major sores, depending on the size and how long they last; major canker sores can sometimes last for years. Like cold sores, canker sores can be very painful (Tips on how to get rid of canker sores).
Getting Rid of Mouth Ulcers
In order to get rid of the sores, you will first have to find out what kind of mouth ulcer you have—whether it’s cold sore or canker sore. Keep in mind that the two are different conditions and as such, require different ways of treatment.
For cold sores:
- Use antiviral medications. If you use an antiviral medication such as docosanol during the first signs of infection, then you can decrease the healing time of the sores. Docosanol is not oral; it’s topical. Apply it five times a day until the sores are healed.
- Avoid picking at the blisters/sores. It might look ugly and it might look inviting but don’t pick or squeeze the blisters and sores that form around your mouth. Doing so will only worsen your blisters and maybe even spread the virus.
- Take pain relievers. You can take over-the-counter pain relievers to alleviate any pain you may have. Aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen are good choices.
For canker sores:
- Rinse with mouthwash. Tetracycline may be prescribed by your doctor in order to reduce pain as well as expedite healing time, as are mouth rinses containing dexamethasone.
- Use topical solutions. There are also over-the-counter topical medications such as amlexanox and fluocinonide. Debacterol is a good topical solution designed specifically to treat canker sores.
In both cases, the sores should disappear even without the aid of medications. However, if your sores persist for more than three weeks, then consult a physician. It may be more than a normal mouth ulcer. If you enjoyed reading this article, might as well read how to get rid of ulcers.