Why Do Mouth Ulcers Hurt So Much?

What are mouth ulcers?

Mouth ulcers are often more than an inconvenience. They can be extremely painful and cause great discomfort. Mouth ulcers can also interrupt sleep and cause problems when eating, drinking and speaking.

What causes mouth ulcers?

Ulcers in the mouth are caused by a number of factors and triggers, such as:

  • Trauma to the mouth
  • Viral infections
  • Lack of essential vitamins
  • Toothpaste that contains sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Food sensitivities
  • Allergies 
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep

People who have regular mouth ulcers might have a condition known as aphthous stomatitis. This common disorder, for which a cause is known, results in aphthous ulcers or canker sores which are actually different from mouth ulcers.

Why are mouth ulcers so painful?

The inside of our mouth is incredibly sensitive. A mouth ulcer is essentially a break in the lining of the mouth that can expose the nerves beneath. Because we use our mouths a lot and because they’re full of digestive enzymes and acids, an ulcer can really hurt. Accidentally biting on a mouth ulcer can be agony.

The good news is that wounds in the mouth heal much faster than cuts to the skin. However, that’s not much consolation if the pain associated with a mouth ulcer is impacting your quality of life. Typically, a mouth ulcer should heal within seven to 10 days and is not dangerous or contagious.

How long are mouth ulcers painful for?

The pain of a mouth ulcer will usually be worse if the damaged area is agitated. The pain from mouth ulcers can increase during the first few days but once the healing process is underway, the discomfort should begin to reduce.

Treatment for painful mouth ulcers

During the phase in which inflammation of the mouth ulcer peaks, it can be helpful to avoid certain foods such as those that are crispy, hard, spicy, acidic or salty. Fizzy drinks and alcohol can also irritate the wound.

Even though any movement of the mouth may be painful, you should continue to brush your teeth. A soft brush might help. There are some homely remedies and over-the-counter medication that can reduce the pain of a mouth ulcer. Rinsing your mouth with a saltwater solution or an antimicrobial mouthwash might help and painkillers can ease discomfort.

For more information, please read our article on ‘what mouth ulcers could tell you about your health’.

When to seek medical attention for a mouth ulcer

If a mouth ulcer has not healed within two to three weeks then you should seek medical advice. If the pain is causing you distress or even if you have an important event coming up, it can be a good idea to book a private consultation with an ENT specialist. Mr Olarinde of ENT Sheffield offers consultations to suit your busy schedule, often at short notice.