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Aphthae are among the most common inflammations of the oral mucosa. They affect approximately 20% of the population, both children and adults. Some people develop them only once and others develop them repeatedly throughout their lives. The cause is not yet fully understood.
The oral cavity, like other parts of our body, can be affected by various diseases and have diverse causes.
The most common causes include:
- as a consequence of systemic disease
- genetic predisposition
- mental disorders
- oncological diseases
They affect different parts, such as the lips, the oral mucosa, gums, teeth, tongue and salivary glands. They are manifested in different ways, for example by redness, swelling or pain. The pain may be aggravated by eating, talking or persisting without irritants.
Aphthae are just the most commonly occurring problems in the mouth and oral cavity.
They affect up to 20% of the population.
Why do aphthae arise?
In medical terms, aphthae are referred to as recurrent aphthous stomatitis. The cause is not completely clarified even nowadays. It affects mostly the young, but occurs at any age.
In the past, the influence of microorganisms, viruses, was considered. However, this relationship has not been confirmed.
Some presumed causes are:
- genetic predisposition
- associated with HLA antigens
- a third of people have a confirmed family history
- vitamin B12 deficiency
- iron deficiency
- folic acid deficiency
- related to conditions and diseases such as:
- celiac disease
- Crohn's disease
- other digestive tract disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease
- inflammations of the stomach
- ulcer disease
- allergy to certain foods
- pernicious anaemia
- lowered body defences, i.e. immunity
- hormonal changes in women related to the menstrual cycle
- smoking and especially the time after quitting
- and the condition after injuries, such as poor brushing technique
The course of aphthous inflammation is aggravated by poor oral hygiene. As the inflammation becomes infected with microorganisms.
What are aphthae and how are they categorised?
Aphthae are small blisters covered with a pale to grey coloured membrane. This membrane often ruptures and a small ulcer forms. Its bottom is slightly below the level of the surrounding healthy mucosa.
The ulcer has sharply demarcated edges with a reddish mucous membrane. Aphthae can occur singly or in clusters. Aphthae are then subdivided according to size.
Aphthae are categorised into three main groups:
- minor aphthae, also called stomatitis aphtosa minor and Mikulicz's aphthae
- major aphthae, also called stomatitis aphtosa major and Sutton's ulcers
- herpetiform types
Table: distribution and description of aphthous inflammations
|Type||Minor aphthae||Major aphthae||Herpetiform ulcers|
|Size||up to 4 mm||1 cm on average |
sometimes up to 3 cm
resemble herpetic inflammation
|Count||up to 6||do 6 kusov||up to 100 ulcers|
|Frequency||most commonly |
|about 10 %||up to 10 %|
|Age and sex||children, adults||children, adults||young adults|
and in most cases women
the bottom of the mouth
gums and upper part of the tongue,
i.e. the dorsal part
|most commonly on the tongue|
|Duration||up to 10 days||about a month||about a month|
|Intensity of difficulties||mild |
|higher intensity |
frequent relapsea - return
ulcers often fuse resemble herpes,
but no viral infection is present
The buccal mucosa is therefore the buccal mucosa.
Aphthae in the mouth can be under the tongue, but also on the tongue or on the gums
The first and most commonly occurring group are small aphthae. They have a mild course, although it is inconvenienced by soreness. They usually disappear within 10 days. It can be complicated by poor oral hygiene and infection with microorganisms.
They occur mostly on the mucous membrane of the cheeks and the base of the mouth. The bottom of the mouth is the area under the tongue. To a lesser extent, they may appear on the gums and upper part of the tongue. The palate is affected only in its soft part.
Large aphthae can occur in these places and virtually anywhere in the mouth. Their course is characterized by a higher intensity and a longer period of occurrence. They are also characterised by a tendency to recurrence, i.e. recurrence.
The third group resembles a herpetic infection, hence its name. Herpetiform aphthae are characterized by a size of about 3 mm. The number of ulcers is higher. The ulceration goes deeper.
Although this form is similar to herpetic infection, the presence of herpes virus has not been proven.
Most often they occur on the lower part of the tongue. They have a high intensity of pain. Although the boils are small, they often merge. They can take up to a month to heal and often recur.
In their case, it is important to distinguish whether they are really aphthae or whether another disease is the cause. An example would be herpetic tonsillitis or another herpetic infection in the oral cavity.
They occur frequently in children and young adults
The most affected population is children, adolescents and young adults. Women as well as men are affected, with people aged 11 to 35 years being most commonly affected.
Herpetiform boils that are more prominent in women.
Of course, aphthae also occur in adulthood.
In women in pregnancy and with hormonal changes
They can also bother expectant mothers. And this is not at all an isolated phenomenon. Pregnancy is an extremely demanding condition for a woman's organism.
The mother's body nourishes the fetus, and a decrease in iron or folic acid is a prerequisite for the formation of aphthous inflammation. Another cause may be a weakened immune system. The immune system is affected by pregnancy. However, they do not have a negative effect on pregnancy.
By improving lifestyle or diet, a pregnant woman can prevent aphthae. It is very important to take a diet rich in vitamins and minerals. Vegetables, fruits and foods that supply the body with B complex vitamins, folic acid or iron.
Also during pregnancy, aphthae can be treated with the help of topical disinfectants. Which should prevent their subsequent infection.
It is a disease whose cause is unknown. It may be due to genetic predisposition, autoimmune disease or infection with a virus. A combination of these may be considered. It may also occur familially.
The manifestation is a triad of symptoms, namely:
- numerous aphthae in the oral cavity
- aphthous ulcers in the genital area
- hypopyon - an eye disease
The disease is rare and mainly affects populations in areas of the world such as Japan, China, Korea, Turkey, Tunisia. It is most common between the ages of 20 and 35, especially in men.
The manifestation is the appearance of aphthae in the oral cavity and on the genitals. In men, mainly on the scrotum, or scrotum. Less often on the penis. In women, the labia are affected.
Both eyes are usually affected, in most cases within three years of the onset of the disease.
Consequently, it also has a negative signature on other organ systems. And this is, for example, the skin, blood vessels, neurological and digestive system or joints.
Learn more about the disease: Recurrent aphthae and Behcet's disease.
Is transfer of aphthae possible?
In aphthae, an infectious cause is not assumed. So no. Aphthae are not an infectious disease.
But, a complication of aphthous inflammation can be infection with a microorganism. Therefore, at the time of occurrence, oral hygiene is all the more important.
How to prevent them?
One should take care to maintain sufficient oral hygiene. Use a proper toothbrush and brushing technique when brushing teeth.
Aphthae occur most often in the child population and therefore care must be taken to prevent them. Mechanical damage is prevented by proper technique, which needs to be taught to the child.
Mechanical damage can also be caused by dental braces.
If hypovitaminosis, i.e. a lack of vitamins or minerals, is behind the occurrence of aphthae, they need to be replenished in the form of an appropriate diet or nutritional supplements and by strengthening immunity.
How to get rid of them? The best treatment treats the causes
In most cases, the aphthae disappear by themselves after some time. If their occurrence is prolonged or recurrent, it is necessary to seek professional help. A general practitioner can refer you to a dentist.
Diagnosis is important. This is based on the medical history and clinical picture.
Differential diagnosis, i.e. ruling out another cause, is very important. Blood sampling and laboratory tests are also used. A blood count or analysis of minerals, vitamins or antibodies. Even a biopsy.
If the course is more severe, it is also necessary to perform some tests, such as allergological, immunological genetic or microbiological.
Treatment is mainly local and symptomatic, i.e. symptoms are alleviated.
An oral anaesthetic is administered to numb the mouth and relieve pain, or painkillers - analgesics. Vitamin preparations, various ointments, gels, solutions or some types of teas help.
Aphthae can be treated with topical disinfection. If necessary, also with antibiotics, if there is an infection with a bacterium, such as streptococcus.
But the most important thing is to focus on a known cause that may have caused the aphthae.
And this is more complicated with aphthae. Because their cause may not be obvious.
Known causes include, for example:
- traumatic injury in the oral cavity caused by
- injection at the dentist
- biting the inside of the lip
- tongue bite
- mineral and vitamin deficiencies
- vitamin B6
- folic acid, i.e. vitamin B9
- vitamin B12
- food allergies - for example to apples, pears, peas or carrots
Aphthae may only be the beginning
Underestimating aphthae means ignoring not only the symptom and manifestation itself, but especially ignoring the cause.
Aphthae can also sometimes very easily be mistaken for, or prevented by, some very serious oral diseases or be their first and warning sign.
Unfortunately, it is not only about diseases in the mouth, because aphthae are also a sign of immunological diseases, diseases of infectious origin and some systemic diseases.
It is therefore ideal to see a doctor as soon as aphthae appear, e.g. your GP, dentist, dental surgeon or an immunologist.
First and foremost, it is advisable to focus on prevention as part of oral hygiene, which means, for example, removing plaque and tartar, which can harbour micro-organisms.
Children should also avoid chewing gum, spices and irritating foods.