Mouth Sores: What They Are and How to Get Rid of Them
You rely on a healthy, comfortable mouth more than you think. From eating to talking at work, the mucosa (skin inside of your mouth) needs to stay healthy and lubricated. When mouth sores pop up, they can feel extremely painful, especially since we’re constantly moving our mouths during meals, while we’re having conversations with our family, or when we’re just brushing and flossing our teeth.
Is there a best way to treat a mouth sore or get rid of ulcers in your mouth? Ultimately, it depends on the type of mouth sore you have and what is causing it.
What Is a Mouth Sore?
Mouth sores come in all shapes and sizes. Some are only two to four millimeters wide — smaller than a pea — while others can be half an inch or larger. Depending on the cause of the oral ulcer, it may be raw, have visible blistering, or even develop a crusty layer across the top of it.
According to the ADA, mouth sores usually come from factors such as:
- Infections, including viruses or fungal sources
- Irritation to the skin, such as wearing braces
- An underlying medical condition or disease
How long does a mouth sore last? Typically, under two weeks. So even if you aren’t able to seek out medical treatment from a physician or dentist, you can usually find a way to manage the symptoms at home while your mouth sore heals over the course of several days.
What Are Different Types and What Causes Them?
What are the different types of mouth sores? In most scenarios, mouth sores fall under the category of canker sores (aphthous ulcers) or cold sores. However, other types of ulcers and mouth sores may occasionally develop, such as an ulcer or fistula next to an abscessed tooth. Certain viruses can also cause unique mouth sores, making it necessary for your physician to diagnose the condition.
What causes sores in the mouth? In addition to viruses or physical irritation, some mouth sores are caused by fungal infections or even cancer therapy. Being able to identify the source of your mouth sores will help you select the best remedy to manage or get rid of them. For example, if you develop sore spots under your dentures, you will want to make sure you’re removing your denture nightly and cleaning it as directed by your dentist. Poor oral hygiene can allow fungal growth, which leaves tissues sore, raw, or painful.
Good oral hygiene and avoiding potential triggers — including stress and sunlight — can lower your risk for potential ulcer “flare-ups” in the future. However, someone with cancer may find that even flossing is painful. Instead, their dentist might recommend using a special mouth rinse to help keep their mouth clean while also easing discomfort.
Canker sores are non-contagious and often pop up in sets of two or four at a time. They’re usually painful or burn and can become more irritated whenever you eat hard, crunchy, or acidic foods. Orthodontic patients may also see ulcers where their metal appliances are rubbing or irritating certain areas of their mouth.
Canker sores tend to heal on their own without any special treatment. Some people find that anti-inflammatory medications or gentle mouthwashes help ease symptoms in the meantime. If you wear braces, you can use orthodontic wax to minimize soft tissue trauma from your fixed appliances.
If you have a canker sore that doesn’t heal within two weeks, be sure to see your dentist for a formal diagnosis.
Frequently referred to as “fever blisters,” cold sores can last for seven to 10 days and be extremely painful. These sores tend to be most common along the lips, but they can also occur in other areas in your mouth. They’re caused by a dormant virus that can occasionally flare up due to factors like illnesses, sunlight, or even hormonal changes. Unlike canker sores, cold sores are contagious.
If you have an active cold sore, make sure you avoid contact with the ulcer and wash your hands regularly, especially before doing something like putting in your contacts or using the restroom.
Some dentists may recommend mouth sore treatments like soft tissue laser therapy to shorten the lifespan of cold sores. If you are prone to recurring fever blisters, your dentist or physician may prescribe a topical medication that can be applied at the earliest onset of symptoms to help shorten the duration of your mouth sores.
These oral ulcers are caused by an acute viral flare-up due to the same virus that triggers cold sores. It’s known for causing numerous painful blisters across the lips and throughout the mouth. Gingivostomatitis is also called “acute herpetic gingivostomatitis,” but don’t let the “herpetic” portion catch you off guard. Of the 100-plus known herpesviruses, eight of which infect humans, this herpes strain known for habitually causing cold sores is also linked to chickenpox and shingles.
Vitamin and immunodeficiencies
Certain types of immunodeficiencies or nutritional deficiencies can contribute to mouth sores. If you don’t eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily diet, you could potentially have a vitamin or mineral deficiency without realizing it. Folate (folic acid or vitamin B9) is one example. It’s found predominantly in leafy greens including spinach, beans, peas, as well as in bananas and oranges.
Additionally, the Oral Health Foundation recommends a diet that’s rich in vitamins A, C, and E to help manage and prevent mouth sores.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD)
Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is caused by a virus and can cause sores on the mouth as well as blisters on the hands, feet, and sometimes the groin and buttocks. It’s frequently seen in small children and is easily spread between close contact in areas like schools or daycare facilities.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine or specific medication available for HFMD. Most children simply have to wait it out and take pain medication or use a numbing mouth gel to alleviate the symptoms. According to the CDC, most kids and adults with HFMD get better in about a week to 10 days.
Can You Prevent Them?
Treating canker sores or other mouth sores often starts with a preventative approach. For example, try to identify foods and drinks that trigger your mouth sores. These could include:
- Alcoholic, carbonated, or hot beverages
- Spicy foods
- Acidic fruits
If you tend to get ulcers or canker sores after eating tomatoes, for instance, you can adjust your diet to avoid that potential trigger. Sometimes hard, salty foods like chips can also be a food to steer clear of.
If you have a condition like xerostomia, which is persistent dry mouth, it can lead to a host of oral issues, including mouth sores. Products specifically for dry mouth and sugar-free gum may help.
Using a non-alcoholic mouthwash can also be beneficial, as alcoholic mouthwash can be harsher on your mouth.
Eating soft, moist foods and drinking two to three quarts of water each day can also be helpful for preventing mouth sores.
How to Get Rid of a Them
Most mouth sores heal on their own as long as they are not constantly irritated within two weeks. Anything lasting longer than that usually requires a biopsy to confirm that it is not pathological in nature.
In the meantime, ease symptoms by using gentle oral care products, good oral hygiene practices, anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as ibuprofen, and take in plenty of non-irritating fluids. Be sure to avoid salty, spicy, or acidic foods, which can irritate mouth sores and cause unnecessary discomfort.
Rest, patience, and about two weeks of recovery are the best way to get rid of the average mouth sore. Typically, oral ulcers resolve on their own within 10 to 14 days, but if they don’t, visit a dentist or medical professional for further evaluation.
In the meantime, avoid potential triggers or foods that may irritate your mouth sores, and use a gentle, thorough oral hygiene routine to keep your mouth clean without traumatizing your mouth sores any further. If it hurts to brush and floss, consider using a non-alcoholic mouthwash and taking Motrin or ibuprofen as directed.