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Alternative Names Return to topOral ulcer; Stomatitis - ulcerative; Ulcer - mouth
Definition Return to top
Mouth ulcers are sores or open lesions in the mouth. (See also mouth sores or canker sores)
Causes Return to top
Mouth ulcers are caused by many disorders. These include:
The skin lesion of histoplasmosis may also appear as a mouth ulcer.
Canker sores are more common in young adults than in children or older adults.
Symptoms Return to top
The appearance and exact location of lesions varies with the specific disorder.
Exams and Tests Return to top
A health care provider or dentist usually diagnoses the type of mouth ulcer, based on its appearance and location. Blood tests or a biopsy of the ulcer may be needed to confirm the cause.
Treatment Return to top
The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms. The cause, if known, should be treated.
Gentle, thorough oral hygiene may relieve some of the symptoms. Topical (rubbed on) antihistamines, antacids, corticosteroids, or other soothing preparations may be recommended for applying directly to the ulcer.
Avoid hot or spicy foods, which often increase the pain of mouth ulcers.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
The outcome varies depending on the cause of the ulcer. Many mouth ulcers are harmless ( benign)and heal without treatment. Sometimes, mouth cancer first appears as an ulcer that won't heal.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if your mouth ulcers don't go away after 3 weeks. Call for an appointment with your health care provider if mouth ulcers return frequently, or if new symptoms develop.
Prevention Return to top
Good oral hygiene may help prevent some types of mouth ulcers, as well as some complications from mouth ulcers. Good oral hygiene includes brushing the teeth at least twice per day, flossing at least daily, and getting regular professional dental cleanings and examinations.
References Return to top
Gonsalves WC, Chi AC, Neville BW. Common oral lesions: Part I. Superficial mucosal lesions. Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(4):501-507.
Gonsalves WC, Chi AC, Neville BW. Common oral lesions: Part II. Masses and neoplasia. Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(4):509-512.
Gonsalves WC, Wrightson AS, Henry RG. Common oral conditions in older persons. Am Fam Physician. 2008;78(7):845-852.Update Date: 2/1/2009 Updated by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.