I hate mouth ulcers. A horribly uncomfortable and painful situation shared by millions around the world, I have always suffered from mouth ulcers since the tender age of 10. I distinctly remember my mum consoling me saying mouth ulcers are a fact of life, and they usually go away in a few days. No, they did not. In fact, subsequent mouth ulcers lasted longer and longer as I was growing up.
Now that I am an adult, with a bit more life experiences, treating my monthly occurrences of mouth ulcers became a series of trials and errors I was thoroughly obsessed with.
I think I have found very good ways to deal with them, and I am more than happy to share them with the millions of people who hate them as much as I do. That said, every human body is different from another human body. My personal experiences may or may not apply to your case, but please feel free to try it out, just in case it works.
What are mouth ulcers?
Mouth ulcers, also called canker sores, are small lesions that develop on the inside of your mouth, lips, tongue and gums. It makes eating, drinking or even swallowing painful. Usually, it is accompanied by sensations of a swollen tongue and the swelling of the inside of your cheeks.
Mouth ulcers are different from cold sores, which usually grow on the outside of your lips. Sometimes, a string of ulcers-like lesions develop on the inside of your throat, often caused by a viral disease such as the flu or other Corona viruses. In such cases, these are very different from what I am discussing here, so the triggers and solutions will not work, as these are not mouth ulcers.
3 Main Triggers of mouth ulcers
Mouth ulcers often occur as a single lesion. If the circumstances that led to the first ulcer are still present, then a second or third one may occur.
Mouth ulcers themselves are NOT a disease. They are symptoms of a faulty malfunction, and a warning signal sent by your body to tell you to stop. Once you understand this as a warning sign, you should immediately heed the warning and stop the harm you have been doing to your body.
Once I have understood this, it really changed my mindset about mouth ulcers and I have come to appreciate my body sending such a powerful warning sign so that I can take better care of myself.
From what I have been experiencing, these situations below are often what caused mouth ulcers for me. By accurately identifying which of these situations was currently causing me harm, I was better able to try to prevent the further escalation of the injury so that my body is able to recover.
Stress is a major source and trigger of mouth ulcers. Because stress is so invisible, I do not ‘feel’ stressed out but all of a sudden, my mouth feels dry and swollen and a mouth ulcer will form, almost overnight.
The idea of food ‘temperature’ is steeped in Chinese and Indian cuisines. In Ayurvedic terms, too much ‘pitta’ or heat brings harm to your liver and creates an imbalance. In traditional Chinese medicine, fiery foods heat up your digestive system and your body uses mouth ulcers to tell you to stop. In such cases, the solution would be to stop the consumption of fiery foods, and at the same time, counteract the heat with ‘cool foods’.
Uneven or sharp teeth sometimes cause or/and worsen mouth ulcers. Sometimes, I accidentally cut the sides of my mouth or bite my tongue, and the wound quickly becomes a mouth ulcer. Mind you, under normal circumstances, you do not bite or cut yourself easily. It’s often because of a slight swelling of your oral cavity, due to either stress or pitta imbalances as mentioned above. Thus this third cause often accompanies either of the above.
What should I do when I have mouth ulcers? Here are 9 things you should do.
Stop the stress!
You may not realise it but your body does. Stress is the silent killer and many of us wrongly assume we would ‘know’ if we’re being harmed by stress. When you start developing mouth ulcers regularly, you should reevaluate your lifestyle.
Give yourself a break by doing absolutely nothing for a few days. Book a massage. Practise mindfulness and meditation.
Do a sport all by yourself, such as running, yoga, weight training, or cycling. Something that brings you away from your stress location and keeps you focused on one single physical activity.
Most importantly: Stop the rush. Stop thinking. Empty your mind.
Stop eating fiery foods!
Spices, oil and alcohol add heat to your digestive system and mouth ulcers are the cries for help from your body. If you are prone to having mouth ulcers, minimise the consumption of fiery foods. Below is my personal list:
- Chilies: fresh, dried, chili sauce, chili oil
- Pepper corns: Sichuan pepper, black pepper
- Strong pungent spices: cumin, cinnamon
- Oily food: deep fried food, chocolates
- Alcohol: red wine, rum, gin
Whenever I overindulge in any of the above, I know for certain mouth ulcers will develop overnight.
Alternatively, I always preemptively consume ‘cool foods’ at the same time I eat fiery foods, to prevent any tipping of the balance.
Eat cool foods!
What are ‘cool’ foods? Just as fiery foods add heat to your digestive system, cool foods neutralise the ‘pitta’.
Slightly sour fruits and vegetables are almost all cool foods. Green apples are a great example, so are fresh tomatoes. Green limes are also amazing cooling agents.
If you’re prone to mouth ulcers, try to consume as much of cool foods as possible. I always have green apples in my fridge and tomatoes are great in an Italian caprese salad with fresh basil and mozzarella cheese.
Gargle with diluted wild Greek oregano oil
Wild Greek oregano (Origanum Vulgare Heracleoticum) is one of the most potent anti fungal, antioxidant and healing herbs known since antiquity. While hundreds of species of oregano grow throughout the Mediterranean, Greek oregano grown wild in the Greek mountains are the ‘spiciest’. Dried oregano is a staple in Greek cuisine, sprinkled on salads and meat to add that extra kick and aroma. What you get in supermarkets, especially supermarkets outside of Western Europe, is actually Marjoram. Marjoram (Origanum Majorana) is used more frequently in Middle Eastern cuisines, and often falsely marketed as oregano in places like the US and Singapore. A huge biological distinction, apart from the nice kick of true wild Greek oregano, is that marjoram is an annual whilst oregano is a perennial.
Buy only 100% pure essential oil of wild Greek oregano to be able to benefit from its legendary properties, especially in combating infections such as mouth ulcers. Do not buy an oil not produced in Greece, because there are many Turkish or Libyan fake oregano oils based actually on marjoram. Do not buy an oil even produced in Greece that has less than 86% Carvacrol, which is the main ingredient in true wild Greek oregano that is a powerful antioxidant.
To treat mouth ulcers, place two drops of pure oil of true wild Greek oregano into lukewarm water. Gargle. When you are not used to it, it will sting for about 2 minutes. But the relief will last for an hour or two. Continue doing this for 3 times a day, the last time preferably before bedtime. It will help tremendously in the healing of mouth ulcers and at the same time, counter the imbalances in your digestive system that are causing the mouth ulcers.
Take Namtaothong Bitter Herbs tablets
I was introduced to these by a Thai friend and apparently all Thais swear by them. When you look at the amount of chilies and oils that the Thais consume in their cuisine, one can’t help wonder if they are naturally immune to digestive imbalances. Actually, the Thais have tons of cool foods in their ammunition. One of them is this, Namtaothong herbal tablets. Made from five different herbs, I don’t know what they are because these are all in Thai, each pack comes with four tablets, which you are supposed to take three times a day. They are so effective in balancing my pitta! After three days, I could feel my mouth ulcers subside and whatever that is causing the imbalance got properly flushed every day.
Make a Krachai กระชาย tea
Sometimes called ‘finger root‘ in English, Krachai กระชาย (Boesenbergia rotunda) is a ginger-like root used abundantly in Thai and Laotian cuisines. To me, this is the other ammunition in Thai food culture that protects against too much fiery foods. According to Thaifoodparadise.com, there is a study done that shows krachai is effective against liver cirrhosis in rats, thus potentially effective in humans. Liver cirrhosis is a degenerative inflammation caused by hepatitis virusses, alcohol and other causes that result in the hardening of the liver. In Ayurvedic concept, the liver is where the ‘pitta‘ resides to cause mouth ulcers.
What I do, is to make Krachai tea, which I drink whenever I feel that I have consumed too much fiery foods. To make Krachai tea, I break off one branch of krachai root (which I stored in the freezer), break it down into smaller pieces, add hot water and cover. After 5 minutes, I have krachai tea. To add flavor to it, you can add 5cm of lemongrass and 1 teaspoonful of honey before adding the water. The result is a nice-smelling sweet Krachai-Lemongrass tea.
You don’t have to wait until you have mouth ulcers before you make this tea. It can be a daily and 3 times weekly kind of food habit to consistently harmonise your digestive ecosystem.
Ayran is a popular Turkish summer drink. Apart from being a nice cold creamy beverage for the sweltering heat, I have discovered that ayran really helps sooth my digestive system. It is primarily yoghurt, which brings the host of good lactobacilli bacteria into your gut. It has salt, which in Chinese medicine, has a cooling effect as opposed to sugar, which has a heating effect. Whenever I have mouth ulcers, I make ayran two to three times a day and within three days, my mouth ulcers subside.
To make ayran, you fill half your glass (around 200ml) with real unsweetened yoghurt (not the jelly-like fake yoghurt you see in American supermarkets). I usually go for Greek yoghurt which is much thicker. Add in 1 teaspoon of fine sea salt. You can add more if you like. Stir well. Add an equal amount of sparkling water. Stir well. Add a few ice cubes to make it nicely chilled. That’s it!
Cover your mouth ulcers with Vitamin C
This is a trick I found on Chinese websites. I tried it, and it works like magic!
I used a normal Vitamin C tablet (not the type that sizzles in water but the type you chew), ground it into powder and placed it on my ulcers.
Lo and behold, it stings a bit but seems to form a layer over my ulcers. I did it three times in a day and the next day my ulcers ripened and hollowed out, and they started to heal.
Definitely a wonder cure!
Buffer your mouth ulcers with cotton wool
The main reason why your mouth ulcers hurt so much and hang around for a week or more, is because they cannot heal. They are open wounds that constantly rub against your teeth, especially at night, and the abrasion doesn’t allow them to heal.
What you can do, is to first wet a chunk of medical grade cotton wool (not the fragrant or coloured type for cosmetics), squeeze out the water, then place it between your ulcer(s) and your teeth. Don’t worry, you won’t accidentally swallow it at night provided that the piece of cotton wool is large enough. When you wake up in the morning, dispose the cotton wool. You will notice the amount of pus collected by the cotton wool. Yes, the cotton wool aids in the healing by sucking the pus out. Repeat the process as long as the ulcers are painful.
By the time the ulcers are no longer painful, which is about 5 days later, you will notice that they hollow out and start healing.
Hope these tips are useful! Remember, mouth ulcers are not an illness themselves but are a warning sign sent by your body that something is wrong. While our bodies are miraculously tough machines developed over several millennia, they become fragile when constantly come under mental, physical or dietary stress.
Protect your body by listening to it. Learn to be friends with your mouth ulcers, because they are signals to help navigate back to the balance your body needs.