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Identifying Mouth Ulcers From Crohn's Disease

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

It can be frustrating to deal with your symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), even those that aren’t gastrointestinal problems. Why does Crohn’s disease increase your risk of mouth ulcers? Are they the same as canker sores? We’re here to offer an explanation and provide concrete steps you can take to reduce your symptoms and discomfort.

Why Crohn's Disease Causes Ulcers

The systems in your body are more interdependent than you may realize. In addition to stomach problems, Crohn’s disease can cause a wide array of complications because of your digestive tract's extensive size and systemic nature. Crohn’s disease can lead to redness, swelling, or sores anywhere in your digestive system, including your mouth.

Causes of ulcers in people with Crohn’s disease:

  • Chronic inflammation: Inflammation can increase your chances of developing ulcers in your mouth.
  • Improper diet: If your appetite is affected, you may find it challenging to consume an appropriate amount of food to receive full nutrition. Nutrient deficiency or insufficient caloric intake can lead to an increased susceptibility to infections, including in your gums.

Types of Mouth Ulcers

According to the ADA, the mouth ulcers developed from those affected by Crohn’s disease are similar to canker sores but technically different.

According to the Mayo Clinic, aphthous ulcers, commonly known as canker sores, are small, ovular, and have a red border. They form on the mucous membranes and are not contagious. Mouth ulcers in those with Crohn’s disease have similar presentation and symptoms.

There are a few varieties of mouth ulcers that can result from Crohn’s disease:

  • Minor aphthous-like ulcers - cause a low amount of discomfort and are typically less than 5mm in size
  • Major aphthous-like ulcers - are painful and typically greater than 5mm in size
  • Herpetiform canker sores - occur when smaller lesions combine to form a bigger, irregular ulcer

Helpful tip: Mouth ulcers are different from cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus and are contagious.

Managing Mouth Ulcers

According to the National Health Service, most mouth ulcers can clear up on their own in 1-2 weeks. However, those with Crohn’s disease may find that their sores are slow to heal. You might find that you experience irritation or discomfort before an ulcer presents.

In addition to being a source of annoyance, ulcers can also increase your chance of infection. Although there’s no magic potion to cure mouth ulcers, there are some powerful choices you can make to reduce irritation and make them easier to live with.

You can reduce discomfort and increase healing by:

  • Gently brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush for two minutes twice daily
  • Scheduling regular visits with your dental professional
  • Avoiding hot, spicy, salty, or acidic foods and drinks
  • Skipping chewing gum
  • Asking your dental or medical professional about recommending an antimicrobial mouthrinse, pain treatment, or steroid product

Treatment and Outlook

While there’s no cure for Crohn’s disease, there are positive steps you can take to control its symptoms and even reduce inflammation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, most with the disease can still experience full and active lifestyles.

If you have trouble managing symptoms on your own, it’s a good idea to speak with your medical or dental professional for treatment recommendations. Crohn’s disease can have life-threatening complications, so it’s essential not to let your symptoms get out of control or neglect self-care. Luckily, the most powerful tool at your disposal for preventing complications and increasing the remission of symptoms is your lifestyle choices.

Steps you can take to reduce your symptoms:

  • Consume a balanced, low-fat diet to ensure proper nutrition and proper caloric intake
  • Do not smoke or use tobacco products
  • Maintain a schedule of regular exercise
  • Take steps to reduce and manage your stress actively
  • Avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Even though there’s no cure for Crohn’s disease or mouth ulcers, you still have a tremendous amount of control over your situation with your lifestyle choices. Healthy habits in diet, exercise, and stress management can empower your ability to manage your symptoms. You’ve done a great job by educating yourself on mouth ulcers and how they relate to Crohn’s disease.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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