Mouth ulcers

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Mouth ulcers are uncomfortable sores that develop in the mouth. Even though these can cause discomfort and pain, they are relatively harmless and most settle within a week or two.

Mouth ulcers can be treated at home without consulting a doctor. If the ulcers last longer than 3 weeks, a doctor should be consulted though.

What do mouth ulcers look like?

Mouth ulcers are typically oval or rounded sores that develop within the mouth, usually on the lips, cheeks and the tongue that can be white, yellow, red or gray in color and swollen. It is possible to develop more than one ulcer at a time and can spread or grow in size.

When to seek medical care

Mouth ulcers
Mouth ulcers can be painful which makes it difficult to drink, eat or brush the teeth.

Mouth ulcers can be painful which makes it difficult to drink, eat or brush the teeth. A doctor should be consulted for the following:

  • Ulcers lasts for 3 weeks
  • Ulcers continue to develop
  • Ulcers become more painful or red which might be a sign of a bacterial infection that requires treatment using antibiotics

The ulcers might also be an indication of a viral infection that usually affects young children which is called hand, foot and mouth disease.


There are measures that can help minimize the swelling and reduce the discomfort caused by the mouth ulcers. These can help if the ulcers affect drinking and eating.

Self-care measures

  • Apply a protective paste given by the doctor
  • Use a soft toothbrush
  • Use a straw when drinking cool beverages
  • Use a toothpaste that does not contain sodium lauryl sulphate since it can cause irritation
  • Avoid spicy, hard, salty, acidic or hot food and beverages until the ulcer heals

Pharmaceutical remedies

There are several types of treatment available in pharmacies such as the following:

  • Pain medications – available as a lozenge, mouth wash, spray or gel. There is an initial sting and the mouth feels numb but this is usually brief.
  • Antimicrobial mouth wash – helps speed up the healing and prevent infection of the ulcer.
  • Corticosteroid lozenges – work by reducing the pain and hasten the healing. These can be used as soon as the ulcer appears but should not be used by children below 12.

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