Treating mouth ulcers 

Most mouth ulcers don't require specific treatment, as they will usually heal on their own within 10-14 days.

However, treatment may be necessary if your ulcers are severe, painful or interfere with your daily activities (such as eating).

If your mouth ulcers are thought to be the result of an underlying condition, you may need to be referred to a specialist so the condition can be treated.

Self-help tips

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

  • Use a soft toothbrush when brushing your teeth.
  • Avoid hard, sharp, spicy and acidic foods and drinks until the ulcer heals – stick to soft foods that are easier to chew.
  • Avoid things that you think may be triggering your ulcers, such as specific foods. Read about the causes of mouth ulcers for more information about potential triggers.
  • Reduce your stress levels by doing an activity that you find relaxing, such as yoga, meditation or exercise. Read more about relaxation tips to avoid stress.

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

Medication

If necessary, your GP or dentist can prescribe medication that may help ease your symptoms.

Some mouth ulcer treatments can also be bought without a prescription from your local pharmacy, although you should speak to your pharmacist about which medicine may be best for you. Some treatments aren't suitable for children or for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to get pregnant.

The main treatments for mouth ulcers are described below, although the evidence supporting their use is limited. These treatments also won't stop you developing new mouth ulcers in the future.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are a type of medication that reduces inflammation. They can help reduce pain associated with mouth ulcers and help them heal faster.

Corticosteroids are available in many different forms, including mouthwashes and sprays.

You should speak to your GP for advice before using corticosteroid medications for mouth ulcers in children under 12 years old.

Antimicrobial mouthwash

Antimicrobial mouthwash helps kill bacteria, viruses or fungi that could infect the ulcer, particularly if a painful mouth ulcer means you are unable to brush your teeth properly. They may also help speed up healing.

Chlorhexidine gluconate is the most commonly prescribed mouthwash, although various gels and sprays are also available.

Chlorhexidine gluconate is normally used twice a day. After using chlorhexidine 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 chlorhexidine gluconate mouthwash. However, after brushing your teeth make sure that you thoroughly rinse your mouth out with water before using the mouthwash.

Chlorhexidine gluconate mouthwash should not be used by infants under two years old.

Painkillers

If your mouth ulcer is very painful, your GP may prescribe a painkiller that you can apply directly to your ulcer. These are available as mouthwashes, sprays, lozenges and gels.

Your GP will usually prescribe benzydamine, which is available as a mouthwash or spray. However, the mouthwash is not suitable for children under 12 years of age and shouldn't usually be used for more than seven days in a row.

Benzydamine mouthwashes and sprays may also sting when you first use them, but this should lessen as you continue to use them. You may find it useful to dilute the mouthwash with an equal amount of water before using it if stinging is a problem. If the stinging persists, your pharmacist or GP may recommend stopping treatment.

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


Page last reviewed: 06/03/2014

Next review due: 06/03/2016