Aphthae (oral ulcers)

More than 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates described for the first time intensified mouth ulcers and called them “aphthae”, which means “to light” or “to kindle a fire” in Greek. This term referred to the ailments that accompany oral ulcers. Every third person has aphtha at least once in their lifetime. A single aphtha heals in a few days and leaves no trace. It may even occur unnoticed. Patients should see a dermatologist if they develop several aphtha. Some individuals may have ‘recurrent aphthosis’, where the healing of one aphtha on the mucous membrane leads to the emergence of another.

There may be many reasons of recurrent aphthosis, including mechanical injuries, stress, certain foods, infections and other diseases. Sometimes, despite precise examination, these causes can not be determined. The genetic factors and family predisposition play an important role in the onset of recurrent aphthosis. About 30% of people with recurrent aphthosis have a family member with the same disease. Children whose parents both have had aphthosis carry a 90% increased risk for its development.

The beginning of the disease usually occurs in childhood or adolescence. Usually, the first oral ulcers appear before the age of 30. Aphthae can result in small painful erosions or superficial ulcerations, usually up to 1 cm in diameter, which are yellowish or gray in coloration. These painful erosions or ulcerations are surrounded by an inflammatory rim. Typically, single aphtha heals in 7 to 10 days. If a single mucosal lesion persists longer, it may be a special form of aphthosis, but is probably not an aphtha.

In doubtful cases, other diseases should be excluded, such as erythema multiforme, lichen planus, chronic ulcerative stomatitis or pemphigus.

Prof. Małgorzata Olszewska, among others, deals with the treatment of aphthae and other mucosal diseases in our office.