Aphthae in the mouth: when and why it appears

Do you have a little white-headed blister in your mouth that just won’t go away? Is there also a burning and penetrating pain? Well, you probably don’t want to hear this – but this combination indicates aphtha. Aphthae was first described way-back in Ancient Greece, and today is among the most frequent problems of the oral cavity. This inflammatory disease most often occurs on the surface of the oral mucosa, with children and working-age people most at risk. The cause is unknown and treatment for this type of thrush can be lengthy.


Aphtha (recurrent aphthous stomatitis) is a non-infectious and non-transmissible inflammation, characterised by small sores that precede ruptured blisters. Their colour changes depending on the stage, but start out yellow and white. Once a blister bursts, the pustule is bordered by redness that indicates severe irritation.

This irritation may increase when talking, eating or drinking. The aphthae’s location, extent and quantity may differ depending on the type of sore. These include:

  • Minor aphthae: The most common aphtha that occurs in 80% of cases. They may occur up to six at a time and measure up to 4 mm. They most often afflict the lips, soft palate, upper and lower tongue, and the gums. The average treatment period is 10 days.
  • Major aphthae:  Less common but no less pleasant. Around 1 cm big and occur in only 10% of cases. Can occur practically anywhere inside the oral cavity. Large sores frequently recur and can scar when healing.
  • Herpetiform ulceration: Herpetic aphthae may number up to 100 and are mostly located on the underside of the tongue. The treatment period lasts one month, and the process is very painful.

Aphthae - causes

Aphthae can be caused by:

  • A poor biting action: The treatment of a faulty biting action is the responsibility of orthodontists, who can correct the position of a patient's jaws. This can also solve the problems that accompany a poor jaw position. Aphthae falls into this group of problems.
  • Wearing orthodontic apparatuses: Incorrectly placed orthodontic apparatuses – especially wires – can cause mechanical damage to the soft tissue of the oral cavity wall. This results in frequent sores that can often reappear.
  • Mechanical injuries: A mechanical injury may result from orthodontic appliances as well as, for example, food. Chips or other foods with sharp edges may injure the soft parts of the tongue and palette. This is similar to aphtha.
  • Incorrect oral hygiene: For dental hygiene to be effective and useful, it’s important to use the correct tools. This excludes a hard toothbrush, which can also stimulate the formation of sores. Hard bristles irritate the gums, which in turn react with the inflammation.
  • Chemical stimuli: Toothpastes that contain irritating substances, such as sodium lauryl sulphate, may also contribute to the formation of sores.

Can a dentist or dental hygienist help alleviate oral sores?

Such sores typically disappear after just a few days. But if the sore persists, you should visit your dentist right away. Are you experiencing a prolonged recovery period or multiple sores? Then it’s important to visit an outpatient clinic and inform your doctor. Long-term sores may indicate a hidden inflammation or other health problem that needs urgent attention.

During a preventive checkup, a dentist can visually check for oral thrush. Dental hygiene is an essential way to eliminate the bacteria and viruses that can contribute to the formation of sores.

Home-treatment of sores

Many patients treat aphthae with home remedies, such as limiting irritants like citrus and spicy foods. These irritants can also include soft drinks and sparkling water.

Topical treatment by way of applying tea tree oil, which has antibacterial effects, can also help. Honey has an antiseptic effect, and garlic can relieve the pain associated with wound healing.

Never apply medicines and preparations that are not intended for use directly on wounds! Aphthae typically lasts just a few days. But if your home treatment doesn’t do the trick or the sores are too extensive, we recommend seeing a dentist to receive the appropriate treatment.



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