3 essential things to know about mouth ulcers

November 27, 2014

Mouth ulcers, or canker sores, are painful and annoying, but you can easily help treat them. Here is what you need to know about what causes canker sores.
Mouth ulcers, usually known as canker sores, are common, yet what contributes to their development is not entirely understood. It is, however, observed that certain types of sores are associated with other serious conditions such as viral infections and cancer. These differ from the benign sore, which is usually small, doesn’t spread and goes away on its own. Here are three things you need to know about mouth ulcers and how to go about treating them.

3 essential things to know about mouth ulcers

Size matters

If you were to get your mouth ulcer checked out by a doctor, he or she would probably assess the size of the sore first. Mouth ulcers generally fall under three size categories: minor, major and herpetiform. What’s herpetiform, you ask? These are lesions that occur in clusters rather than the singular, self-reliant form.

Small sores are the types you find on your lip and soft palate of your mouth. The larger ones are usually deeper and can scar when healing. The last type, herpetiform, look like flare ups. There are more of them, and more portions that are fluid filled.

Causes of mouth ulcers

Sores can be a symptom of many separate or combined underlying health problems. Stress, food sensitivities, gastrointestinal problems and infections have all been known as causes. Bacteria such as helicobacter pylori, which actually causes stomach ulcers, as well as the herpes simplex virus, have also been implicated as causative agents. Unfortunately, none of these are consistent predictors of mouth ulcers, so the exact one-to-one cause and effect relationship is yet to be identified.


So how would a doctor diagnose and provide treatment for a canker sore if the exact cause of these things is unknown? In cases such as this, doctors use the information that is known to try and rule out some of the more serious causes first. The most common underlying factors that are assessed during diagnosis are:

  • Infections (ex. Herpes or syphilis virus)
  • Underlying auto destructive diseases (ex. Inflammatory bowel disease or lupus)
  • Cancer

While mouth ulcers may not be well understood, each of the three categories are identifiable upon testing.

If you find that your mouth sores do not go away within a week, occur frequently, or you think you may have one of the above mentioned underlying conditions, see your doctor.

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