Canker Sores: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, and More
What is a Canker Sore?
A canker sore (aphthous ulcer) is a small, painful, open sore inside the mouth. They may occur on the tongue and on the inside linings of the cheeks, lips, and throat. Canker sores are usually white, gray, or yellow in color, surrounded by a bright red area. Canker sores are the most common type of mouth ulcer, up to 20% of people have recurrent mouth ulcers.
A canker sore can be simple or complex. A simple canker sore reemerges about three to four times every year. This is a common type in people between the ages of 10 and 20. A complex canker sore isn’t as common and develops in people who’ve had it before.
A canker sore is NOT the same as a fever blister (cold sore) which is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
~ Cold sores mostly occur on the lips and outside of the mouth, and they are contagious.
~ Canker sores occur on the inside of the mouth, and they are not contagious.
What Causes Canker Sores?
The exact cause of canker sores is not well understood. Some possible causes of canker sores include:
~ Injury to the mouth (such as biting the inside of your mouth, braces or dentures, vigorous tooth brushing, etc.)
~ A reaction to citrus fruits or other acidic foods
~ Food sensitivities or allergies
~ Mineral or vitamin deficiencies (Iron, Vitamin B12, Folic Acid, etc.)
~ Toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulfate
~ Allergy to bacteria in the mouth
~ Hormonal changes
~ Autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus or Behçet’s disease
~ Gastrointestinal tract diseases, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease
Dealing With Canker Sores
There is no cure for canker sores, and in most cases, canker sores do not require any treatment. Canker sores will usually heal on their own. Only the symptoms of canker sores can be treated. So if you already have a canker sore, there are some steps and home remedies that can be used to help ease your discomfort and to speed healing:
~ Eat bland foods, avoiding acidic or spicy foods
~ Saltwater rinses
~ Over the counter pain medications can be used to help with discomfort from canker sores
~ Apply a mixture of half hydrogen peroxide and half water directly to the sore using a cotton swab. Follow by dabbing a small amount of Milk of Magnesia on the canker afterward. Repeat these steps 3-4 times a day.
~ Rinse your mouth with a mixture of half Milk of Magnesia and half Benadryl liquid allergy medicine. Swish mixture in the mouth for about 1 minute, and then spit out.
~ Over the counter pain medications/gels such as benzocaine (Orajel)
~ Prescriptions: your doctor or dentist can prescribe an antimicrobial mouth rinse, an antibiotic, a corticosteroid ointment, or a prescription mouthwash.
Canker sores usually heal on their own within one to three weeks, although the pain normally subsides in seven to 10 days. Contact your doctor or dentist if you develop:
~ Unusually large sores
~ Sores that are spreading
~ Intolerable pain
~ Sores that last three weeks or longer
~ A high fever
Tips to Prevent Canker Sores
There is no way to completely prevent canker sores. While there is no cure for canker sores and they often reoccur, you may be able to reduce their frequency with good dental hygiene and by:
~ Avoiding foods that irritate your mouth and that may have previously triggered the outbreak. This often includes spicy, salty, or acidic foods.
~ Avoiding foods that cause the symptoms of an allergy, such as an itchy mouth, a swollen tongue, or hives.
~ Using stress reduction methods and calming techniques (if your canker sores pop up due to stress).
~ Using a soft toothbrush to avoid irritating your gums and soft tissue.
~ Talking with your doctor to determine if you have any specific vitamin or mineral deficiencies causing the sores. Your medical professional can help design a suitable diet plan and prescribe individual supplements if you need them.