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Understanding Canker Sores

Canker sores can be painful and annoying little lesions. If you have a tendency to develop these sores, then you know how irritating they can be.

The main goal when you have a canker sore is to make it go away as quickly as possible. To do that, it helps to know more about these sores and what causes them.

What Are Canker Sores?
The technical name for canker sores is aphthous ulcers. They are small lesions that appear inside your mouth as round or oval sores. They usually have a red border and a yellow or white center. They can be a variety of sizes.

Canker sores are not generally dangerous. They are benign and not contagious. Were you to kiss someone who had a canker sore, you wouldn't have to worry about "catching" it. However, secondary infections can occasionally develop.

What Causes Canker Sores?
People who get canker sores regularly may notice that there are different things that cause them. You may know you tend to get canker sores if you bite your lip or feel stressed. These are known as "triggers" and they vary by individual.

Regardless of personal triggers, what exactly causes canker sores is not clear. Most likely, canker sores are caused by a number of different factors working together. For some people, canker sores could be linked to an auto-immune response.

Where Do Canker Sores Typically Develop?
When you get them, you'll spot these little ulcers inside your mouth. Any soft tissue in your mouth is fair game. Most commonly, these sores will develop on the inside of your cheeks and lips, on your gums, and on the top and tip of the tongue.

Cold sores can be easily confused with canker sores. However, these are two different things. Canker sores will never develop on your lips or the outside of your mouth.

What Are the Symptoms of Canker Sores?
The most common symptom of canker sores is localized pain. Sometimes before a sore develops you'll know it's coming because of a burning, itching, or stinging sensation in the area where the sore will be.

Once the sore has arrived, it will hurt to touch it, or have it come in contact with food. Sometimes even your own tongue can be painful to encounter. In severe cases, the pain can make it difficult for people to eat or drink.

How Long Do Canker Sores Last?
The sores themselves usually last between 7 and 10 days. You should call your dentist if you have:

  • Extremely large sores
  • Spreading sores
  • Sores that last longer than a couple weeks

Do Canker Sores Cause Other Symptoms?
In rare cases, a person can develop a fever when they are getting a canker sore. Usually, there are no other symptoms in the body.

Will Canker Sores Keep Coming Back?
There is a condition called aphthous stomatitis which is characterized by the repeated development of canker sores. About 20% of the population is affected by aphthous stomatitis to some degree. This condition usually develops in childhood and goes away with age.

Not all canker sores are caused by aphthous stomatitis. However, chances are if your child gets a canker sore, he or she will eventually get another one. There is no cure for aphthous stomatitis, but you can treat the canker sores that develop.

How Do You Treat Canker Sores?
The goal when treating canker sores is to reduce pain and promote healing. For most people, the sores are not painful enough to require any treatment at all. If you have a particularly painful ulcer though, reducing the pain may be necessary to make it comfortable to do things like eat.

Treatments for canker sores include:

  • Topical Anesthetics - Corticosteroid creams and oral pain reliever pastes are the first choice for treatment of canker sores. Products such as Oragel and Orabase are applied topically and will numb the pain.
  • Topical Antiseptics - Antibacterial rinses can be used to both speed up the healing time for canker sores, and prevent a secondary infection from occurring. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic rinse, or an anti-inflammatory steroid mouthwash.
  • Oral Medications - Oral medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, and acetaminophen can be used for pain relief. They will also help with inflammation. Zinc lozenges and Vitamin C can help with symptoms as well.

How Do You Prevent Canker Sores?
The best way to avoid canker sores is to avoid doing anything that triggers them for you. This can include:

  • Avoiding spicy foods
  • Avoiding acidic foods
  • Using a soft-bristled toothbrush to lessen irritation
  • Using relaxation techniques to lessen stress
  • Being careful to avoid biting your lips, tongue, or cheeks

Canker sores are irritating and painful, but there are some things you can do to make them feel better. By being better informed about them, you are better prepared to treat them when you get them, and avoid them when you can.