What Actually Are Canker Sores And How To Treat Them?

A pretty frequent question asked by patients is what canker sores are, and the answer is they are open, often painful sores on the inside of our mouth. They are usually white-yellowish colored and around them is usually a light red area. Although men can also be affected, they are more frequent in women, but what’s common for both genders is that the age is not an obstacle for canker sores, though they are most frequently noted in teenagers, young and middle-aged people. They can appear in a form of a single sore or, more often, as a group of many sores. They usually show on the soft tissue, such as gums, tongue, cheeks, lips or the roof of our mouth and the good news is that they are completely harmless. This being said, that doesn’t mean that they are not uncomfortable and they can often make talking and even eating very difficult for people who have them.

There are two known types of canker sores:

  1. Simple canker sores. Commonly occurring to young people, ages 10 to 20, they can happen up to four times in one year and can last about a week.
  2. Complex canker sores. Less common, typically happening to people that previously suffered from them.

How to recognize canker sores?

Symptoms often start with kind of an uncomfortable tingling or even burning sensation even before the physical manifestation of the sores, and later progress to a painful bump or a red spot that may become an ulcer later. There is also a chance of developing fever or swollen lymph glands, but this happens only in rare cases. The pain usually disappears within one to two weeks, but there is a possibility of them returning again.

What is the cause of the canker sores in the first place?

The specific cause of these sores is unknown, but they have been connected to some other well-known issues. They are known to be related to the weakened immune system, but they can also be caused by menstrual periods, emotional stress, food allergies and spicy foods, as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as of iron, vitamin B-12 and folic acid. Another potential reason could be gastrointestinal problems, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease.

Canker sores can also happen after an tooth cleaning or whitening, or generally any dental work, or when a person is often biting their cheek or their tongue. Often times sharp teeth, such as in cracked teeth or when the dental crown is worn out, or an ill-fitting denture can trigger their appearance, and they are also known to be a problem for people wearing braces for a long time.

Are canker sores the same thing as cold sores?

Although they are quite commonly mistaken for each other, they are not the same thing. Cold sores, also known as herpes simplex type 1, are groups of painful blisters, filled with fluid. Unlike the canker sores, their cause is well known and it’s virus related. Another thing that’s very different for these two is that canker sores typically appear on the inside of our mouth, while cold sores appear on the outside – typically around the lips or under the nose.

What can you do to prevent or treat canker sores?

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent canker sores from happening. Since the reason for their appearance is not completely known, there is not much we can really do when it comes to prevention. But the good news is, since they usually disappear by themselves, dental treatment is usually not necessary. In case your dentist thinks the treatment is necessary, they can be treated with dental lasers, which shows great amount of success and almost complete relief of all symptoms. While they are present though, you should restrain from eating hot foods, as well as spicy dishes, anything acidic (like lemons, oranges, pineapples, apples, strawberries, tomatoes…) or crunchy (nuts, chips), as these foods can worsen the situation. Your dentist might prescribe a dose of corticosteroids, to help the healing process and ease your discomfort, but in case you’re feeling any pain, you can as well use non-prescription painkillers. You can also rinse your mouth with salt water few times a day, and there is a chance that your dentist might prescribe a special rinse that’s called magic mouth rinse. Magic mouth rinse contains the same amount of viscous lidocaine, which helps numb the pain, along with Benadryl and Malox.

To prevent them from happening in the first place, you have to keep your immune system strong, by taking care of your diet in the first place, making sure that you eat enough foods that are rich in vitamins, as well as minerals. On the other hand, you should cut down or completely eliminate food that really does nothing good for your body and overall health – such as sodas and candy, as they are very acidic and full of sugars, and those two can damage our teeth, as well as our gums, while also having a negative impact on our immune system – making a perfect way in for the canker sores. You can also try following a sleeping pattern that works best for you and controlling stress levels in your everyday life.

Another very important thing to consider is proper oral hygiene, meaning using the right tools first of all. Try opting out for a soft-bristled toothbrush, as hard-bristled ones are known to damage soft tissues in our mouth if used incorrectly. Flossing twice a day, as well as mouth rinsing with an appropriate mouthwash is also well advised.

In case that your canker sores are lasting more than three weeks, spreading to other places, are unusually large (more than 1 cm) or if they are causing you intolerable pain despite the fact that you have been doing nothing to trigger that, you should consider contacting your dentist as soon as you can, so he can take a look at the situation and recommend the most appropriate way to deal with it, so you can have your healthy, canker sore free mouth, back.