Canker sores and other mouth ulcers are never fun. Referring to any open sores that become infected, mouth ulcers can be very painful and can seem to come out of nowhere. As with anything in life, however, there are a number of causes and solutions to this problem, and there are active ways to avoid and treat mouth ulcers. If you frequently suffer from mouth ulcers, your best course of action will be to take a holistic view incorporating all aspects of living. This includes eating, sleeping, stress control, diet, exercise and medication to control flare-ups. Below, we’ll go over how you can use this holistic approach to understand how mouth ulcers form, how you can prevent them, and what options are available to treat them.

What Causes Mouth Ulcers?

The causes include several things, though one specific thing can be exacerbating the other issues. Generally, mouth ulcers start with an abrasion, meaning your mouth develops areas that get thinned or broken through some means. This allows bacteria and other harmful pathogens to enter, where they can wear down the immune system’s T cells. This is when an ulcer forms, and mouth pain becomes a real and pressing problem.

Eating acidic foods or using an acidic product can make things worse, as the acid can burn through cheek skin and cause further damage. Microabrasions can also pop up from having teeth that catch on certain parts of your cheek, by chewing on your cheek, or by biting your tongue while eating food. Sometimes, damage to one’s teeth can be the ultimate cause of the abrasion that eventually develops into an ulcer. If you have a chipped or broken tooth that rubs against your cheek, it can be worth looking into getting a crown to restore the tooth back to its original shape.

Mouth ulcers can also develop or be more likely to develop because of burns, dehydration, allergic reactions or even products that you can use. Stress and hormone changes that accompany other lifestyle changes can also be a large factor that can make your immune system weakened. 

What Are the Stages of a Mouth Ulcer?

The first stage of an ulcer is the abrasion. After abrasion has occurred, preventative treatment is one of the best ways to stop ulcers from forming. This is the best time to take it easy on acidic food to prevent the tissue damage from becoming worse. Eating too much acidic food during this stage can cause the ulcer to develop fester, allowing the infection to enter the next stage. It will look small but bright white with tiny red patches around it. The white piece is the bacteria trying to get a deeper hold in your mouth while your body fights it. You can tell you’re at this stage if you have a slight, small pain and a small start of an ulcer. Drink water, don’t harm your immune system, and consider your next steps for treatment.

The next stage is the ulcer itself. It will now be raised and very red with a wall formed around it. The white spot may have bits of black or brown around it. It is now feeding on your tissue, and has worn down your tissue so much it is reaching your nerve endings. This explains the pain, and everything from the wind to eating will cause discomfort. With nerve endings fully exposed, it can really hurt. This is when most people start treatment, but after you read this you will know to start before. If it has gotten to this point, it may be worth it to make an appointment with your dentist.

The final stage is the reconstruction. At the 3rd to 10th day, your body is finally winning and starting to recover from the infection. The ulcer will still be slightly painful, and taking proper care continues to be essential at this point. 

How Can You Prevent Mouth Ulcers?

There are ways to treat an active mouth ulcer or canker sore once it has already happened, but the best path to limiting the amount of actual pain you have to deal with is to start with prevention. Diet plays a very large role here, as does stress. What many dentists have found is that those who are susceptible to mouth ulcers in the first place tend to see huge problems when they use products that contain fluoride or sulfates. Both of those ingredients are used in almost every single major toothpaste brand.

To avoid this problem, it is recommended that you use a toothpaste that uses baking soda as the main cleaning agent. Arm & Hammer and other brands make use of that. There is also Tom’s toothpaste that uses other natural ingredients. Finally, charcoal based toothpastes that use hemp seed oil as a binding agent are a great option. Burt’s Bees also makes an SLS and Fluoride free toothpaste that’s worth trying out. 

What Treatment Options Are Available?

When it comes to treatment, there is a lot that one can do. Some options require a prescription, and a quick visit to your local dental practice can have you leaving with a treatment. Other options are available over the counter. One of the most effective and all-purpose remedies is to make use of honey. Honey is not only good for dealing with the pain of an ulcer, but also for reducing the size. This is beneficial during all stages of the ulcer. When it comes to its effects, honey is antibacterial, can lower blood pressure, and has antioxidants to fight the damage of oxidative stress. A team of archaeologists working in Egypt actually found a jar of honey that had stored for nearly 5 millennia. After cutting off the top layer, they ate it and found it was completely safe—a testament to honey’s incredible antimicrobial properties.

Other treatment options for the first two stages of a mouth ulcer include hydrogen peroxide, which is great for killing bacteria and drying out the infection site. For similar reasons, salt water washes can also help. During later stages once the ulcer has already formed, silver nitrate or other antibacterial agents can work to cause a shock that lets your immune system kill the problem. To help relieve the pain, milk of magnesia and Benadryl are good options as well as Orajel, crushed Tum’s and even simply putting ice on the sore. These treatments work for different reasons, as some are anti-inflammatory while others help to relieve the pain. Whichever you choose, they can all help during every stage of an ulcer, especially with the pain.

At this point, you should be drinking a lot of water and avoiding highly acidic foods and toothpastes. If you visit your dentist, they can prescribe mixes of lidocaine or Acycoline MUM, a medication that may not be available over the counter otherwise. Your dentist can also give you diet and action recommendations for future avoidance. 

Closing Thoughts

Hopefully you are now prepared to deal with your mouth ulcers going forward. You can help prevent them by managing stress, cutting back on acidic foods, and avoiding oral products that contain sulfates, and there are several easily available treatments you can use to manage them once they develop.

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