Mouth Ulcers


Mouth ulcers, also referred to as mouth sores or aphthous ulcers, are breaks in the mucous membranes that result in small painful lesions in and around the mouth. Mouth ulcers are not contagious, but cold sores are.

Causes of Mouth Ulcers

The most common cause of mouth ulcers is injury to the inside of the mouth or gums. Typical injuries are caused by dental work when a dentist’s tool scrapes the tongue, cheek, or gum. Mouth ulcers may also be caused by chemotherapy and radiation treatments typically given to cancer patients. Other factors contributing to mouth ulcers include fatigue, stress, allergies, tobacco usage, depressed immune system functioning, and infections.

Types of Mouth Ulcers

Canker sores are the most common types of mouth ulcers, but they are not very serious. Cold sores are also fairly common, and are small blisters inside the mouth and on the lips that are caused by infections such as the herpes simplex virus. Cold sores usually go away within a week or two, but if not, a visit to the doctor or dentist should be made. One type of mouth ulcer, leukoplakia, is potentially cancerous.

Prevention of Mouth Ulcers

Prevention of mouth ulcers starts with strong oral hygiene, including brushing twice per day, flossing daily, and going to the dentist on a regular basis. The dentist should also file down jagged teeth and replacing any ill-fitting dental appliances, so as to avoid cutting an individual’s mouth in any way. Other tips to prevent mouth ulcers include avoiding the ingestion of tobacco products like cigarette or chewing tobacco, and getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis.

Other things that should be avoided include alcohol, chewing gum, citrus fruits, coffee, dairy products, meat, pineapple, spicy foods, tomatoes, vinegar, and other highly acidic foods.

Cold sores are most easily prevented by avoiding kissing and oral sex with persons who have visible sores on their body.

Techniques such as guided meditation, yoga, and guided energy help to reduce stress, and may reduce the risk of mouth ulcers as a result.

Symptoms of Mouth Ulcers

The first sign that a cold sore is forming is a burning or tingling on the lips or inside the mouth. Later, a blister or serious of blisters appear, and eventually they become scabs. Cold sores may also appear on the chin, under the nose, or even on a person’s fingers. While they disappear eventually, the virus lays dormant under the skin until activated again by stress, injury, sunburn, fever, or other infections.

How the Condition is Diagnosed

Generally, a dentist or doctor can diagnose mouth ulcers by looking at them and noting their location. Diagnosing leukoplakia takes a biopsy to make sure, though the sores appear raised with white patches.

Mouth Ulcers Possible Treatments

While doctors often prescribe antibiotics or corticosteroids for mouth ulcers, neither treatment cures the ulcer, though they do serve to alleviate pain. There are a number of other possible ways to treat mouth ulcers, including solutions as simple as rinsing one’s mouth out with salt water.

Myrrh (Commiphora) is a Commission E (Germany’s governing body for herbal remedies) approved remedy for mouth ulcers. Myrrh is an effective treatment for these sores because it is high in tannins. Tannins are an acid present in a number of plants, and have strong antiseptic and antiviral properties. It is most effective in treating mouth ulcers caused by bacteria, fungus, a virus, or an allergy. Myrrh capsules are available at drug stores, and an individual need only break one open and apply the powder to the sore to treat it.

Tea (Camellia Sinensis) may also be used to treat mouth ulcers. A regular bag of tea, already used, can be placed on sores in the mouth to help alleviate symptoms. Individuals may also use herbal teas, such as bearberry, eucalyptus, St. John’s wort, sage, raspberry, peppermint, and licorice to help treat mouth ulcers.

Cankerroot (Coptis groenlandica) is a plant that derived its name from treating canker sores. It was used by Native Americans and early American settlers for treating mouth ulcers. Cankerroot is also known as goldthread.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis) was used by Native Americans to treat wounds, and contains chemicals that act as astringents and antiseptics. To use goldenseal, a mouthwash is usually made, consisting of two teaspoons of dried goldenseal and a cup of boiling water. It is recommended that individuals use the mouthwash three or four times per day.

In Melvin Werbach’s book, Nutritional Influences on Illness, he cited a study which found that licorice mouthwash provided relief from mouth ulcers for 75% of the people tested. The subjects found that licorice mouthwash improved symptoms on the first day, and that the mouth ulcers were gone by the third day. Licorice (Glycrrhiza glabra) has tannins (which have strong antiseptic and antiviral properties) and two other compounds (glycyrrhetinic acid and glycyrrhizin) which help mouth sores heal more quickly. Licorice can also be used to sweeten many other herbal teas for mouth ulcers, and has the added therapeutic effects it brings to the table on its own.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) may also be used to make a tea that will soothe mouth ulcers. To make sage tea, two teaspoons of dried sage should be mixed with a cup of boiling water. Individuals should avoid drinking too much sage tea, as it contains a compound called thujone which may cause convulsions when taken in high doses. Generally, sage is good for an individual in small doses, but bad when a person takes too much.

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) was used by Native Americans and early settlers to the United States for a number of medicinal tasks. Wild geranium roots are high in tannins, and may be used to treat mouth sores. 

Cold sores may be treated through a number of alternative options to traditional medicines. Individuals may benefit from certain bacteria that are normally found in yogurt, lactobacillus supplements, and acidophilus supplements. Other supplements which may benefit individuals with cold sores include zinc glutonate, vitamin C, bee propolis, and beta carotene, all of which strengthen the immune system. A number of herbs benefit the immune system as well, including Echinacea, chaparral, cayenne, red clover blossoms, burdock root, and garlic.


  1. Bratman, S. The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide: an expert panel rates the best treatments for over 80 conditions, Prima Health A Division of Prima Publishing (1998)
  2. Brown, L. Alternative Medicine, NTC/Contemporary Publishing (1999)
  3. Deepak Chopra, M.D. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Celestial Arts (2002)
  4. Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy: Herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world's foremost authority on healing herbs,Rodale Limited (2003)
  5. Nancy Allison. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines, The Rosen Publishing Group (1999)
  6. Servan-Schreiber, D. The Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional & Alternative Medicine For All Ages, Rodale International Limited (2006)

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