The trouble is I never listen to my mother. Since I was young, she has been nagging me not to talk with my mouth full. But I'm quite a gabber during meal times. You can imagine how often I bite my tongue or cheek, especially when chomping on a chewy steak. This has led to regular mouth ulcers. My pain is your gain, though: In three months, I tried four common cures for mouth ulcers to see which was the best.
Many friends have recommended this as a cure, and on some level, it makes perfect sense, given that salt is supposed to be anti-bacterial, and helps drain bacteria and moisture from the ulcer. The only problem is it hurts like hell. I was told to either carefully rub salt into the open sore or gargle very salty water around the area.
Did it work? Not really. After a night of stinging pain and discomfort, the ulcer looked exactly the same. In fact, despite trying this method twice a day for two days, it still took the usual four days before the ulcer moved past its painful stage.
I was all grumpy at a friend's potluck, because a slight crash on the bicycle left me with a bit of a split lip and mouth ulcers. This meant I might have to miss out on my mate's delicious curry chicken. Taking pity on me, a fellow guest described a wonder paste that had great efficacy for mouth ulcers, which I could get from a pharmacy with a prescription. What did I have to lose?
Did it work? I had my doubts about Oracort E, especially when it comes in a strange yam flavour. The packaging just looked so benign that I didn't think it'd be effective. But I applied a smidgen to the wounds and hoped for the best. I'll put my hands up and admit that I was so wrong. Within five minutes, the pain had been numbed to the point that I could even manage a small bowl of takeaway curry! On top of that, the wound began closing after a night's sleep. The reason? Oracote E belongs to a class of medication called corticosteroids, which decreases inflammation and reduces the activity of the immune system. However, you shouldn't overuse it. Stick to the advice on how often to apply it. According to the Cleveland Clinic in the US, possible side effects of steroids include weight gain, acne or, worse, high blood pressure and a lower resistance to infection.
Many people I know swear by this gel. It seemed quite a prestigious brand when I Googled it. Bonjela's website boasts that with over 40 years of experience, you can trust it for effective mouth ulcer treatments.
Did it work? The cool gel (you have to store it in the fridge) did provide some solace from the pain when applied, but came off quite easily because of the normal salivation in mouths. I found it hard to keep the wound covered with Bonjela - meaning it couldn't stay on to have an effect.
Head to any traditional Chinese medicine store and this is what they'd advise to sort out mouth ulcers. They call it xi gua shuang, which translates to "watermelon frost". I suppose it denotes the cooling effect it has to douse the fiery pain of the wound. Speaking to the wizened storeowner, he said it apparently has to do with the "cooling" effects of watermelon.
Did it work? Applying it required that I spray a liberal dose of the powder onto the wound. The powder needed to "cake" on it before it would stay, which took quite a few sprays. That would have been fine if the powder tasted pleasant. However, the dryness of the caked powder did help in protecting the wound somewhat, which led to a decrease in pain (momentarily, at least). But the acid test: Did my ulcer heal faster? Not really. It took three days of spraying before the wound finally started to heal.
Why Do I Keep Getting Mouth Ulcers?
Answer these: Do you have ulcers elsewhere? Have you been getting persistent bellyaches or diarrhoea? Are you on regular medication, or are you feeling generally unwell?
A "yes" to any or all wins you a visit to your GP to make sure there's no underlying cause for your ulcers. The good news is that there usually isn't. The bad news is that we don't know what causes them, or how to treat them.
Recurrent aphthous ulcers, as they're known in the trade, are very common. It has been suggested that they are linked to anaemia, vitamin deficiency or food allergy, but the jury is still out.
Most docs agree, though, that they can be brought on by stress and minor knocks to the mouth, such as toothbrush grazes, and they sometimes run in the family.
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Also, check out the January 2015 issue of Men’s Health for these stories: