What you should know about mouth ulcers

Do you usually develop round sores, a swollen skin around the mouth, or feel severe pain when chewing hot, salty or sour foods, or feel irritation while brushing? According to health experts, you could be troubled by mouth ulcers.

Do you usually develop round sores, a swollen skin around the mouth, or feel severe pain when chewing hot, salty or sour foods, or feel irritation while brushing? According to health experts, you could be troubled by mouth ulcers.

“Mouth ulcers are a condition whereby the cells and tissues of the mouth are damaged leading the mouth to develop a wound. These ulcers are small, painful injuries or wounds that develop in the mouth or at the bottom of the gums. They make drinking and eating cumbersome due to the pain they cause,” says Private Kamanzi, a dietician at Amazon Wellness Centre, Remera, Gasabo District.


Kamanzi says some of the causes are dietary factors like over dependency on alcohol and tobacco since they contain nicotine which absorbs the water in the mouth,  hence leaving it dry, thus leading to sores in the mouth.

According to Dr Dieudonne Bukaba, a nutrition expert from AVEGA Clinic Remera, mouth ulcers, also called aphthous ulcers or canker sores, can sometimes be caused by certain medical conditions such as viral infections including the cold sore virus, chickenpox, and hand, foot and mouth disease, as well as vitamin B12 or iron deficiency.

Kamanzi adds that lack of vitamins like B1, B2, B6 or B9 is a cause of mouth ulcers because this causes the tissues of the mouth to lack elasticity.

“Vitamin B6 helps in the absorption of vitamin C, therefore without enough vitamin B in the body, this would lead to mal-absorption of vitamin C, hence causing the mouth to lose collagens thereby leading to mouth ulcers,” he explains.

The dietician says that nutrition-related disorders like type 1 and 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes are a cause of mouth ulceration.

Kamanzi says mouth ulcers’ diagnosis can be through use of physical signs and symptoms such as wounds in the mouth or a dehydrated mouth.

Also, laboratory examination of vitamin B and blood sugar can be done to establish its presence. If someone consumes alcohol or tobacco, diagnosis can be by testing the amount of nicotine in the body, he adds.

Kamanzi says mouth ulcers are painful and can cause infections like blood infection, for example viral infection, protozoa, or bacterial infections due to damaged tissues. “Unfortunately, if they worsen one can develop mouth cancer or tumors in the mouth if not treated early.”

The dietician stresses that the wounds can spread from one organ to another, which can affect the throat.

“Although the actual cause of these ulcers is still unknown, they are associated with factors like stress. For instance, many students suffer from mouth ulcers during examination time while other people like adults suffer from stress due to over working. People who do not get a good sound sleep also tend to suffer from mouth ulcers as well,” Bukaba explains.

He adds that stomach and intestinal conditions like constipation or some gastrointestinal diseases can also lead to mouth ulcers. Also, folic acid deficiency is a cause, he adds.

Bukaba urges people to mind their diet by avoiding consuming fast foods (pizza and fried chicken, among others). Rather, he says they should opt for adiet rich in green leafy vegetables like broccoli, cabbages, collard greens, green beans and zucchini, among others. Not taking this diet often leads to deficiency of essential vitamins and minerals, indirectly causing mouth ulcers.

“Also injuries that come along due to brushing or taking hot foods and beverages; or allergies to certain food can cause mouth ulcers,” the nutrition expert says.


Kamanzi says treatment depends on the cause.

“If the cause is vitamin B complex deficiency, we normally inject vitamin B complex through intravenous, but if the cause is use of tobacco and alcohol, we advise patients to stopping using these,” he says.

For Bukaba, these ulcers stay in the mouth for about 7 to 10 days irrespective of any treatment though they heal by themselves.

However, he says there are remedies to heal them fast like applying honey, catechu or glycerin over the ulcers 5 to 6 times a day. “If the burning sensation over the ulcers is a lot, you should then apply an ulcer gel to relieve the pain.”

According to Bukaba, patients should take routine walks, exercise more often, get meditation or do yoga to reduce stress and enhance the immune system.

“A good night sleep and a nutritious diet rich in proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, fruits, vegetables as well as drink enough water will keep mouth ulcers at bay,” he says.

Kamanzi says foods rich in vitamins like vitamin C are also recommended; and if the cause is due to an infection, antibiotics and rinsing the mouth with salty water are advisable, he adds.

Bukaba says if these ulcers heal by themselves but recur every more often, then a definitive treatment is necessary. However, if the ulcers do not heal in 15 days, then it might be a sign of an essential disease which has to be taken care of, he says.

Bukaba advises that if one develops the condition they should seek medical attention from health practitioners such as dentists or oral medicine specialists.



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