Ulcers in the mouth (called aphthous ulcers or canker sores) are small lesions that develop on the gums, the inside of the lips, and the mucous membranes (oral mucosa). These lesions usually appear as small ovals of red, irritated tissue. The ulcerated area will generally have a moist, whitish or yellowish surface. Tingling or burning sensations in the oral mucosa are a warning sign that an ulcer may be developing. These sores can be quite painful – especially when you eat, brush your teeth, or drink beverages like orange juice that have a high acid content.

Ulcers in the mouth can occur at any age and the condition usually doesn’t have an identifiable cause. Some individuals experience flare-ups when they are stressed. Unlike cold sores, aphthous ulcers are not caused by a virus and are not contagious. You may wish to see a dermatologist to identify whether the sores in your mouth are caused by an underlying medical condition (such as lupus).

Potential Treatments

Canker sores usually heal on their own within a week or two. However, severe ulcers may last for 6 weeks or more and leave a white scar. Your dermatologist may recommend treatment with various topical medications to minimize pain and speed healing. These include:

  • Tetracycline wash
  • Oral Lidocaine wash or other topical anesthetics
  • Topical triamcinolone in Orabase paste
  • Topical steroids (or steroids injected into the lesion)

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