Mouth Ulcer

What and Why?

The basic attitude of every living thing, however primitive, is self-preservation. Their outer tissues are organized in flat resistant sheets like the walls of a fortress, renewed as they wear by growth from inside. They have no intention of being plundered easily. In direct contrast, everything about your intestine is designed for interaction — from the pumping, mixing, kneading action of its muscles to the vertical development and outreach of its skin.

This set-up makes no provision at all for self-defence. You therefore cannot afford to let anything enter this specially intimate environment still able to assert itself. Plants organized in life for self-preservation must be disorganized and softened sufficiently to present no physical threat and yield passively to your digestion.

That is what chewing is for and why it requires time and attention from a rather special organ. It must cope with the harsh textures, angular forms and tough resistant skins of lumps of food, and yet absorb the flood of quality impressions and sensations that chewing releases from living foods for your appetite to appreciate.

Clearly, rigid structures like your teeth cannot combine all these functions. The elastic flexibility of your tongue and cheeks is indispensable to your mouth’s purpose — sensitive enough to pick up the quality of each mouthful yet sufficiently tough and muscular to manoeuvre hard lumps of food into place between your teeth. The skin of your mouth and gums gets burnt, scratched, stabbed and stretched mercilessly in the course of this and has to protect itself strongly to resist being torn or eroded.

It has therefore the same fortress arrangement of tough layers as the plant food you are chewing, but is in addition mounted on elastic foundation richly supplied with blood. If you bite it by accident it ulcerates sorely, making you cautious during the week it takes to heal. This usually happens to your cheek just where your teeth can catch it as they close.

Accidents of this kind are usually one-off, although the inflammatory swelling they cause makes the wound protrude into your mouth a little more than usual, setting it up to be bitten again. Artificial colourings in food (E100-E155) and fluoridated toothpaste can erode your mouth in a rather different way. The ulcers are more numerous, selecting especially the sheltered creases of skin between your gums and your cheek where residues can linger most easily. Coloured sweets are particularly erosive because of the sugar and acids they usually contain as well.

Sometimes however you may notice breakdowns of the skin all over your mouth for no obvious reason. These usually mean that your general vitality has declined for some reason. You will therefore have some difficulty getting them to heal, since this is harder work than preventing them in the first place. Besides which, whenever you eat they are physically abused by chewing movements and bathed in digestive saliva, either of which can easily undo the benefit of your healing efforts between meals.

What can I do?

Advice to maintain and maximise your health

1. Comfrey tablets are no longer permitted for sale, which is a pity. If you can find any, chew a tablet of Comfrey Root into crumbs and plug the ulcer with the gelatinous mass these become as they take up moisture in your mouth. It will adhere firmly and last for several hours unless you deliberately remove it. Alternatively chew a piece of comfrey stem from the dried herbal tea: it is not so adhesive, but can still be held in place with your tongue.

Not only does this dress and soothe the wound but the allantoin in the comfrey accelerates healing too. You can manage two or three ulcers at a time in this way, those deep in the crease between your gums and your cheeks being particularly suitable.

2. Antiseptics: Red sage tea can be drunk or gargled to soothe sore mouth ulcers and has a mildly antiseptic effect as well. Potassium Chlorate and Phenol Gargle BPC also makes an excellent antiseptic mouth-wash that pickles your skin and numbs any sore patches. Dilute it 50:50 with hot water before use and do not swallow the washings. Either of these will keep your mouth ulcer clean and comfortable while it heals.

3. Diet: Once the ulcer has healed soundly increase the vegetable content of your food and cook it less. If you are accustomed to refined cereals and bread, change to whole-grain versions. The skin of your mouth gets a share of the extra nourishment, and the increased abrasion from chewing challenges it to grow tougher, thicker and more elastic. The scraping also keeps it clean and makes infection or chemical irritation much less likely.

4. Avoid sweets. They encourage bacterial infection of your mouth which can cause inflammatory ulcers or colonize ulcers you already have. Sour pickles and highly spiced food will aggravate an existing ulcer and seem to predispose some people to them. A healthy mouth on a predominantly healthy diet can put up with almost anything occasionally, however.

5. The artificial food colourings that have been shown sometimes to cause mouth ulcers are those derived from coal tar. They are being removed from most manufactured foods under consumer pressure, but sweets will be among the last to change. Avoid buying brightly coloured boiled sweets or gums, especially if they have a sharp acid tang to their flavour. Colouring ingredients are now often identified on packaging by their proper chemical names since many customers are too wary of E numbers for the manufacturer’s liking. ‘Additives: Your Complete Survival Guide’, available from replete, overcomes this problem for you by listing the full names and numbers together.

6. If the problem persists despite these precautions, stop using fluoridated toothpaste.

7. There are many medicinal preparations for sores in your mouth, most of them available from the chemist without prescription. Carmellose Sodium is a safe barrier paste, available also in powder form. Be wary of the steroid preparations you may be prescribed as lozenges, pastilles or pellets if you press your doctor too heavily for an effective remedy: they dampen inflammation but do nothing to heal your fundamental problem and give thrush and other infections more of a chance.

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