These are very painful ulcers that arise in the lining of the
mouth, usually in the gums between the lower lip and teeth.
The small hole on the surface exposes the sensitive tissue
beneath. These mouth ulcers are not herpes infections or
The ulcers are small (about 2-3 mm across), shallow and
yellow or grey in colour. Each ulcer is surrounded by a bright
Any person can get the ulcers. However, they occur most
often in adolescents and young adults and tend to occur more
often in women, especially just before a period. Aphthous
ulcers are very common and affect at least 1 person in 10.
The cause is not precisely known. One theory is that a virus
or bacteria is able to ulcerate the gum surface when the
immune system is below par. Known associations for this are:
• emotional or physical stress
• being 'run down'
• premenstrual tension
• injury such as from rough dentures, dental work, hot food,
toothbrushing or biting the mouth
• irritation from certain foods such as citrus fruits, salted nuts,
acid foods and chocolate
The first thing you usually notice is eating something acidic
(such as a grapefruit or spicy food) that makes the ulcer smart.
Sometimes there is burning or tingling for several hours
beforehand. The ulcers may be so painful for the first 3 days
that they make eating or speaking most uncomfortable.
Aphthous ulcers are not a serious problem. Most ulcers heal
without scarring within 10-14 days. Recurrent attacks of ulcers
are quite common in some people. Any ulcer that lasts beyond
3 weeks is unusual. If the doctor is concerned about an ulcer, a
blood test or biopsy may be taken.
In most cases the ulcer will heal without any treatment and
only feel uncomfortable for 3-4 days. If the ulcer has a known
cause, such as a jag