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Causes of ulcers in your mouth

Updated on July 19, 2014

What are mouth ulcers?

By definition, an ulcer is a sore or open lesion with loss of surface tissue, and when it appears in the mucous membranes of the mouth, it's called a mouth ulcer, an oral ulcer, or a mucosal ulcer. If you are predisposed to mouth ulcers, you very likely are aware of how painful they can be especially when you are eating or talking. It may affect your choice of foods, since hot, spicy, acidic foods will burn. Worst of all, often nothing seems to work to get relief and many who are affected are ultimately resigned to letting them run their course. It's unfortunate that running its course may often mean days or weeks of pain when eating, drinking and talking. Those affected may often look for products to help them cope with the pain, but most products work only temporarily. It comes natural therefore to want to learn more about mouth ulcers and what causes them in the first place. Sometimes, going to the root of the problem and addressing any underlying issues is the ultimate approach that seems to work for some people. However, it must be considered though that in some cases, the ultimate cause for mouth ulcers may never be found, and this is what doctors call as "idiopathic." Idiopathic refers to any condition that has an unknown cause.Yet, despite this, sometimes taking a multisystemic approach can reduce their occurrences. So let's take a look at some causes so can you become more proactive.

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Causes of mouth ulcers

Finding the exact culprit for your mouth ulcers may be challenging. There may be one trigger or even a combination of triggers. Sometimes, reducing their occurrence requires a multisystemic approach. Ask your doctor or dentist for help.

  • Additives in toothpaste

The trigger in this case appears to be sodium lauryl sulfate, an additive added to toothpaste to make it foamy. To find out if your toothpaste contains it, look for the abbreviation SLS printed as an ingredient in your toothpaste. You'll be likely to find this ingredient if you purchase common commercial toothpaste in your supermarket. SLS can also be found in mouthwash. For some people, avoiding SLS has reduced the incidence of mouth ulcers. There are now many natural toothpastes on the market without this harmful ingredient. Even if you do not suffer from mouth ulcers, consider switching to an SLS free toothpaste to avoid other harmful effects.

  • Accidental biting

This can be caused by a sharp tooth or just simply accidental biting of your cheek, lip or tongue. Often, accidental biting is due to careless chewing when you are eating or chewing gum. You may be chewing and talking at the same time, reading, watching tv or reaching out for something. Paying more attention to your chewing and slowing down can help. If you find yourself biting quite often though, it may be due to some misalignment of your teeth or TMJ. Because your bite is off, this triggers more incidences of accidental biting. So getting a misalignment fixed can help in avoiding these occurrences. In some cases, cheek biting may be triggered by poorly-fitting dentures, braces or a nervous habit.

  • Dentist appointments

If you find yourself with mouth sores after a dentist appointment, it could be that little injuries into the mouth caused by dental work may be the culprit. The small injuries may be caused by x-ray's bitewings inserted into your mouth or other tools that scrape against your mouth. If you are prone to this, you can ask your dentist if he can put a protective layer of petroleum jelly in your mouth to reduce the chances for small scrapes and injuries.

  • Food Triggers

Eating certain foods may increase the chances for mouth ulcers. Sharp foods such as the edges of potato chips may cause mouth ulcers or you may accidentally bite your cheek while eating chips as they are quite thin. Some people get also ulcers from eating hard candy with sharp edges or simply keeping the candy for a long time against the cheek. Other may get them from minor burns caused by hot foods or drinks. Then, there are cases where eating certain foods may trigger canker sores. Often people blame acidic foods such as citrus fruits, pineapples, chocolate, nuts, hot peppers and tomatoes. Keeping a diary of what foods you eat and the occurrence of canker sores may help you figure out if there may be a pattern connecting certain foods with the occurrence of the ulcers.

  • Rough brushing

Brushing your teeth is very important to keep your mouth clean and your mouth is playground of bacteria, but in some cases, if you are too rough in brushing your teeth, you may get an ulcer. This can be remedied by being more gentle when you brush your teeth and gums and investing in a toothbrush with softer bristles.

  • Hormonal changes

If you are a woman and tend to get a mouth ulcer right before getting your period, most likely it's caused by hormones. According to WebMD, when women are about to get their period, there is a surge in the hormone progesterone during which oral changes may take effect including bright, swollen gums, bleeding gums and canker sores.

  • Vitamin deficiency

In some cases, mouth ulcers may be caused by some nutritional or vitamin deficiencies. You lack iron or vitamin B12, zinc or folic acid. According to Whole Health Chicago, deficiencies in vitamin D and in the amino acid lysine may be a culprit. Consult with your doctor to rule out a vitamin deficiency and to see if you may need supplements or dietary changes.

  • Stress

Stress is a major cause for many health conditions, and not surprisingly, mouth ulcers are also on the list. If you tend to bite your cheek when nervous or grind your teeth, you'll likely get mouth ulcers, but on top of that, consider that stress suppresses your immune system making you more prone to the effect of bacteria. Mouth ulcers are certainly a possible indication of lowered defenses since it's likely that the mouth will heal and ulcers won't form when people with healthy immune systems accidentally bite their cheeks.

  • Acidic pH

There is belief that people prone to mouth ulcers have a too high acidity pH in their mouths. PH stands for " power of hydrogen" which is the concentration of hydrogen ion in the body. Here is how it works: a pH scale runs from “0” which is considered extremely acid to “14” which is considered extremely alkaline. Ideally, the body should have an acid-alkaline ratio called that is balanced. When this balance is compromised, problems occur. An overly acidic pH, causes the body to borrow calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium—from major organs and bones. How to remedy this? The solution to keeping this ratio balanced is testing your pH and if too acidic, you'll need to find ways to make it more alkaline. Anything we place in our mouths works in either acidifying or alkalizing our body’s pH. The website Chatelaine provides steps in rectifying overly acidic bodies.

  • Idiopathic

As mentioned, sometimes the causes cannot be pinpointed. This is when doctors claim conditions to be idiopathic. If you cannot find a cause and therefore cannot find a cure that will help you reduce the incidence of sores, don't despair. There are products that can help speed-up healing time and reduce the pain.

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