Inflammatory bowel diseases produce a variety of symptoms that aren't limited to gastrointestinal issues. Uncomfortable ulcers in the mouth are one of the more inconvenient things you might develop, and these can be particularly worrying if you don't know what to expect. Here's how to identify if you have Crohn's mouth ulcers, and how to manage them.
Why Crohn's Disease Causes Ulcers
It might seem counterintuitive, but there are some specific reasons this illness can cause you to break out in or around the mouth.
- Systemic inflammation: During a Crohn's flareup, mouth ulcers tend to be worse. This leads Everyday Health to believe there's a connection between the disease's effect on the immune system and inflammation throughout the body.
- Poor nutrition: Crohn's patients often don't have a big appetite, so a full and healthy diet is essential to combating the illness. Just as scurvy affected the gums of early sailors, poor nutrition can cause your gums to become more susceptible to infection.
- Insufficient hydration: The diarrheal symptoms of Crohn's can cause you to become dehydrated easily, and most people don't realize they need to drink more water until it affects them physically. Even mild dehydration increases your risk for gum disease, according to a study by the University of Birmingham School of Dentistry.
Types of Mouth Ulcers
Crohn's mouth ulcers typically resemble canker sores, according to the Mayo Clinic, and you can develop a few different types. Minor aphthous ulcers are the most common, and usually develop in the inner cheeks, gums, tongue, lips and the roof or floor of your mouth. They account for up to 95 percent of mouth sores compared to major aphthous ulcers, which comprise only around 10 percent. These develop as one or two larger sores at a time, and are more common in patients with weakened immune systems.
Herpetiform ulcers develop in "crops" of up to 100 tiny sores at a time and only occur in about 5 percent of patients, who are usually in older age groups.
What to Expect
Minor ulcers generally don't last beyond two weeks, but they can flare up between two to eight times a year. Often appearing as one or more round, white sores, they bleed occasionally and can cause red, swollen and painful gums. The good news is that they usually heal without leaving scars.
Major ulcers take much longer to heal, lasting for six weeks or more in some cases. The ulcers are known for being uncomfortable, and can interfere with your ability to speak and eat over time. Herpetiform ulcers come and go within a week or two, according to the Canadian Dental Association, but because of the size of the crops, they can cause severe pain and ongoing ulceration.
The most effective form of treatment for Crohn's mouth ulcers is to prevent flareups from the bowel disease itself. The best way to do this is to uphold a healthy diet, exercise regularly and stay hydrated throughout the day. You should also practice quality oral hygiene to prevent gum disease from developing.
If you see signs of any type of lesions, take immediate steps to prevent infection and reduce the pain. Have products such as Colgate® Peroxyl® on hand to soothe the sores and other mouth irritations, while cleansing your mouth of bacteria at the same time.
If you begin developing lesions, however, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic such as Tetracycline, which can be used as a mouth rinse in these cases. This helps to reduce the duration of the ulcers and provide relief from the discomfort, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Dealing with Crohn's mouth ulcers depends on how well you manage your bowel disease. Surgery is recommended for Crohn's patients in some cases to reduce the recurrence of mouth sores that just won't go away. Modern immunosuppressants can decrease the frequency of flareups as well, but an overall healthy lifestyle coupled with preventive care will help you to avoid many of the most common symptoms.