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Most minor, single mouth ulcers are caused by damage to the mouth, for example by accidentally biting the inside of your cheek while you are eating or from a sharp tooth, food or filling.
These ulcers will usually heal within a week or two and are not a sign of any serious problem.
The cause of mouth ulcers that keep coming back is not always clear. It is thought that your genes may make you more likely to develop mouth ulcers as a result of certain triggers, as around 40% of people who have recurrent mouth ulcers report that it runs in their family.
Some of the factors that may trigger recurrent mouth ulcers include:
If you are trying to stop smoking, don't be put off if you develop mouth ulcers. Remember that the mouth ulcers are temporary, and the long-term health benefits of not smoking are far greater than the short-term discomfort of the ulcers. Read more about stopping smoking.
In some cases, recurrent mouth ulcers may be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as:
Mouth ulcers can sometimes be caused by a medication you are taking or treatment you are having, such as:
You may notice that you start to get mouth ulcers when you begin your treatment, or when your dosage is increased.
Speak to your GP or care team if you think your treatment is causing your mouth ulcers. You may be able to take an alternative medication or you may be offered medication to treat the ulcers until you finish your course of treatment.
In a few cases, a long-lasting mouth ulcer can be a sign of mouth cancer. Ulcers caused by mouth cancer usually appear on or under the tongue, although they can appear elsewhere in the mouth.
You are more at risk of developing mouth cancer if you are male, over 45 years old and you smoke or drink heavily.
If mouth cancer is detected early, the chances of a complete recovery are good. This is why it is always important to have regular check-ups with your dentist. They can carry out a thorough assessment of your teeth and mouth, and will be able to spot any possible signs of mouth cancer.
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