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Treating mouth ulcers

NHS ChoicesMedical Reference

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Most mouth ulcers don't require specific treatment. They usually heal naturally without treatment if they are:

  • occasional
  • mild
  • do not interfere with your daily activities, such as eating

Self-help tips

If you have a mild mouth ulcer, there are some steps you can take yourself to help your ulcer to heal more quickly:

  • Use a soft toothbrush when brushing your teeth.
  • Avoid eating hard foods, such as toast, and stick to soft foods that are easier to chew.
  • Avoid eating foods that have triggered an ulcer in the past. You can read about  foods that are known to trigger mouth ulcers here.
  • Reduce your stress levels by doing an activity that you find relaxing, such as yoga, meditation or exercise.

If your ulcer has a specific cause, such as a sharp tooth cutting the inside of your cheek, it will usually heal naturally once the cause has been treated. If you suspect that a sharp tooth has caused an ulcer, visit your dentist so that they can repair it.

Medication

If your ulcer is painful, your GP can prescribe a medication to help ease your symptoms.

You can also buy mouth ulcer medicines over the counter without a prescription at your local pharmacy.

Speak to your pharmacist about which medicine would be most suitable for you. Some mouth ulcer gels aren't suitable for children under 16.

You can find your local pharmacist here.

Types of medicines used to treat mouth ulcers include:

Antimicrobial mouthwash

Antimicrobial mouthwash helps to kill bacteria, viruses or fungi that may cause a mouth infection if you're unable to brush your teeth properly.

Chlorhexidine gluconate is the most commonly prescribed mouthwash. You normally have to use it twice a day.

After using chorhexidine gluconate, you may notice that your teeth are covered in a brown stain. This staining is not permanent, and your teeth should return to their normal colour once you finish the treatment.

The best way to prevent staining is to brush your teeth before using chorhexidine gluconate mouthwash. However, after brushing your teeth make sure that you thoroughly rinse your mouth out with water before using the mouthwash.

Chorhexidine gluconate mouthwash should not be used to treat infants under two years old.

Corticosteroids

A corticosteroid is a type of medicine that reduces inflammation.

Mouth ulcer medications contain a low dose of corticosteroid to make the ulcer less painful. It's best to start using corticosteroid medication as soon as a mouth ulcer develops.

Hydrocortisone is the most commonly prescribed corticosteroid. It comes as a lozenge, which slowly dissolves in your mouth. You usually have to take a lozenge four times a day.

Children under 12 years old should see a GP before starting this treatment.

Painkillers

If your mouth ulcer is very painful, your GP may prescribe a painkiller that you can apply directly to your ulcer.

Your GP will usually prescribe benzydamine, which can either be taken as a mouthwash or a spray. You will not be able to use benzydamine for more than seven days in a row.

The mouthwash form of benzydamine may sting when you first use it, but this should lessen as you continue to use it. However, if the stinging persists, contact your pharmacist or GP.

You may also find that your mouth feels numb when you first use the mouthwash. This is normal and the feeling will soon return to your mouth.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to get pregnant, tell your GP or pharmacist before taking benzydamine mouthwash.

Although all these treatments reduce swelling and discomfort in mouth ulcers that are already present, they won't prevent you developing new mouth ulcers in future.

Read more about how to prevent mouth ulcers.

Medical Review: April 21, 2012

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