Mouth ulcers, or canker sores, are open sores that develop inside a person’s mouth. They are caused by a variety of things, including viruses, bacteria, and cancer. Sometimes sores develop as the result of a medical condition while others form while a person is using a certain type of medication. Mouth ulcers may also form because the inside of the mouth is injured, such as from a hard bite to the cheek or after a chemical irritates the oral cavity tissues.
In some cases, canker sores form because of a person’s own immune system. In such a case, the immune system may overreact to a foreign body or treat the mouth tissue as if it were foreign, causing a sore in the affected area. Some people seem prone to developing them when they are fatigued, stressed, or ill with an unrelated condition. They may also form in relation to hormonal fluctuations and the sudden loss of weight. Mouth ulcers may even develop during a woman's menstrual period or as a result of vitamin deficiencies.
When a person has a canker sore, the affected area may sting or burn. A spot or bump may appear next, though it is usually replaced by an open sore. The length of time the ulcer takes to fully develop may depend on what caused the ulcer.
Typically, mouth ulcers are whitish, yellowish, or grayish and are surrounded by a red area of inflammation. In some cases, a white circle forms around the ulcerated tissue. The colored area inside of the reddened inflammation usually develops because layers of a protein called fibrin have formed at the site of the ulcer. Sometimes a person also experiences swollen glands in the area below the jawline while he has a canker sore.
Often, mouth ulcers go away on their own, without requiring any medical treatment. Sometimes people use oral numbing agents to reduce pain and make living with them more tolerable. Depending on the severity of the case, a person may need a prescription medication to numb the area. Minor cases can be treated with over-the-counter medications instead. In very severe cases, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics or steroids to treat canker sores.
Usually, patients aim to merely treat the symptoms of mouth ulcers, as their causes are often undiagnosed. If the specific cause of a canker sore is known, a doctor may treat that condition as well. A person should seek medical advice if he’s has a sore for more than three weeks.