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Learn about your oral ulcer, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your oral ulcer from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

Oral Ulcer Checker

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Oral Ulcer Symptoms

One day everything in your mouth was fine, the next you've got a sore that just won't stop yelling for attention. They can be painful, unsightly, and disturbing. They can feature themselves prominently on your lips and ruin your complexion. An ulcer of the mouth is certainly quite the bother, especially when you have no idea how it got there.

An ulcer is a discontinuity of a surface lining. Oral ulcers include aphthous ulcers which are painful oral ulcers with a grayish base and also known as canker sores. An oral ulcer is an open sore located inside your mouth. Anything that damages the surface layers of the tissues in your mouth can cause an ulcer, whether that be a viral infection, inflammation, or some sort of damaging exposure. Luckily, the mouth tends to heal quite quickly, so most ulcers don't last that long. But while the cause of an oral ulcer isn't always clear, one thing is – they are quite annoying.

Oral ulcers may be associated with these common symptoms:

  • Pain at the site of the ulcer
  • Swelling
  • Pus and other discharge
  • Sore throat
  • Avoidance of certain acidic foods or drinks

Oral Ulcer Causes Overview

Infectious causes:

  • Viral infection: Certain viruses cause ulcers on the lips, in the mouth, or in the throat.
  • Sexually transmitted infection: Some STIs may manifest as oral ulcers.
  • Fungal infection: Fungal infection of the mouth is uncommon and may cause lesions in the mouth, though usually not ulcers

Inflammatory causes:

  • Autoimmune Disease: Your body's immune system may behave abnormally and attack your own tissues. Examples include lupus and Behcet's disease and Crohn's disease.

Cancer causes:

  • Cancer: Cancers and "pre-cancers" of the mouth may manifest as oral ulcers or discoloration.

Environmental causes:

  • Nutritional Deficiency: Your body needs many nutrients to maintain its tissues. Deficiencies of some types of nutrients such as folate and vitamin B12 can lead to oral ulcers.
  • Medications: Oral ulcers are an uncommon but serious reaction to some medications.
  • Chemical Exposure: Chemicals can burn your mouth and cause oral ulcers.
  • Burns: Eating or drinking something that is too hot can lead to thermal burns and resultant oral ulcers.
  • Trauma: Accidentally biting your lip or chewing something sharp can damage the surface lining of your mouth.

Top 10 Oral Ulcer Causes

  1. 1.Canker Sore

    Canker sores are small, grayish-white sores in the mouth, often on the inside of the cheeks, lips, and on the tongue. No one really knows why canker sores happen, but it seems to be inherited and susceptible to vitamin deficiencies and allergies.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own using Chlorhexidine mouth washes (Peridex or Periogard) or steroid medications (Orabase, Betnesol, or Ovar).

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    painful mouth sore, numerous mouth sores, mouth sore surrounded by a red area, single mouth sore, oral ulcer
    Symptoms that always occur with canker sore:
    painful mouth sore
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Oral Herpes

    Herpetic stomatitis is a viral infection of the mouth that causes sores and ulcers. These mouth ulcers are not the same as canker sores, which are not caused by a virus.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own because it goes away on it's own. TAnti-viral treatment is reserved for those who are immunocompromised or with severe cases. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, etc) works to help with the pain. No antibiotics are useful.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    painful mouth sore, numerous mouth sores, oral ulcer, gum pain, pain inside the lips
    Symptoms that always occur with oral herpes:
    oral ulcer
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Side - Effect(s) of Chemotherapy

    Unfortunately, chemotherapy has many side-effects, ranging from hair loss to fatigue to nausea. This occurs because the treatment affects not only diseased cells but also healthy cells.

    You should discuss your symptoms with your oncologist or oncology nurse.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, fever, dizziness
    Symptoms that never occur with side-effect(s) of chemotherapy:
    headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Hand - Foot - and - Mouth Disease

    Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a mild, contagious viral infection common in young children. It is characterized by sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own by using a topical oral anesthetic to relieve the pain of mouth sores. Over-the-counter pain medications other than aspirin, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) may help relieve general discomfort.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    loss of appetite, cough, fever, sore throat, new headache
    Symptoms that always occur with hand-foot-and-mouth disease:
    spontaneous skin changes
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.Oral Herpes

    Herpetic stomatitis is a viral infection of the mouth that causes fever and red and inflamed gums. This typically happens early in childhood.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own because it goes away on it's own. Anti-viral treatment is reserved for those who are immunocompromised or with severe cases. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, etc) works to help with the pain. No antibiotics are useful.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    gum pain, painful mouth sore, fever, gum swelling, mouth sore surrounded by a red area
    Symptoms that always occur with oral herpes:
    gum pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Oral Ulcer Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having oral ulcer.

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  6. 6.New Onset Crohn's Disease

    Crohn's disease is a disorder caused by chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. The damaging inflammation causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition.

    You should schedule an appointment with your primary care physician within a few days to start diagnostic tests and discuss if a referral to a specialist is needed.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Chickenpox (Varicella)

    Chickenpox is an infection is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) and can now be vaccinated against. It spreads very easily from one person to another by direct contact with an active rash.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own using over-the-counter pain medications. Topical lotions containing calamine can be used on the rash or blisters and may be soothing.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    loss of appetite, fatigue, moderate fever, abdominal skin changes, itchy rash
    Symptoms that always occur with chickenpox (varicella):
    rash resembling chickenpox, red rash, itchy rash
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  8. 8.Head and Neck Cancer

    There are five main types of head and neck cancer, which are all named according to the part of the body where they develop: laryngeal (voice box), nasal cavity and sinus, nasopharyngeal (air passage way behind the nose), oral (mouth), and salivary gland cancers. Most of these cancers are squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs), meaning they begin in the flat (squamous) cells that make up the thin surface layer of the structures in the head and neck.

    You should visit your primary care physician who will coordinate your care with a cancer specialist (oncologist) for further testing. It is impossible to definitively diagnosis head and neck cancers without lab testing and biopsy. Treatment is likely to include surgery and chemotherapy.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss, hoarse voice, trouble swallowing, pain with swallowing
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Crohn's Disease Flare

    Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammation of the digestive system. It is one of a group of diseases called inflammatory bowel disease. Crohn's can affect any area from the mouth to the anus, and may cause diarrhea and weight loss.

    You should speak with your primary care physician and/or gastroenterologist as soon as possible to determine if you have a flare.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  10. 10.Laryngeal Cancer

    Laryngeal cancer typically develops from the cells of the topmost layer of the vocal cord area. It can be caused by using tobacco products or drinking excessively.

    You should go see your doctor in the next day or so. Diagnosis is made by looking into the throat and taking a biopsy of the cells, which is then examined under a microscope. Further testing is done after diagnosis to see if it has spread. Treatment includes radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, unintentional weight loss, hoarse voice, trouble swallowing, pain with swallowing
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Oral Ulcer Treatments and Relief

Oral ulcers are, for the most part, a fact of life. You are bound to get one at some point and typically they go away after a few days because your mouth heals quite quickly. However, severe or recurrent ulcers may be indicative of any underlying disease process and should be investigated by a healthcare professional.

At-home oral ulcer treatments:

  • Avoid irritating foods: Certain foods and drinks, especially hot, spicy, or acidic ones, can irritate the oral ulcer and cause pain.
  • Ice: Ice can dull the pain and swelling associated with some ulcers, especially those caused by biting the lip.
  • Over-the-counter topical analgesics: Certain pain medications can be applied directly to the site of the ulcer and dull the pain or protect the site from further damage.
  • Oral hygiene: Keep brushing your teeth and use an antiseptic mouthwash to cut down on the risk of infection and hasten healing of the ulcer.
  • Watch and wait: Most ulcers come and go on their own time and will improve as the mouth does its best to heal the area.

Professional oral ulcer treatments:

  • Oral exam: Your doctor will likely perform an extensive oral exam.
  • Laboratory testing: Your doctor may perform blood tests or swabs of the ulcer to figure out what is causing it.
  • Medications: Some causes of ulcers will respond to medications. This is typical of many infections and autoimmune diseases.
  • Surgery: Rarely, oral ulcers are a symptom or manifestation of a disease requiring surgery, such as cancer of the mouth.

You should seek help without delay if you have:

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Oral Ulcer

  • Q.About your [chest], do you notice any of the following symptoms?
  • Q.Is there a layer of something covering your sore/blister/bump?
  • Q.Do you have a sore throat?
  • Q.Do you feel pain when you swallow?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our oral ulcer symptom checker.

Take a quiz

Oral Ulcer Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having oral ulcer.

Take a quiz