What causes canker sores?

Canker sores, also known as aphthous ulcers, are small, shallow lesions that develop on the soft tissues of the mouth or at the base of the gums. Canker sores are among the most common oral health conditions and nearly half of the total population deal with them.

So why do we get canker sores?

Although there aren’t any sure causes of canker sores, several triggers are known to make people more susceptible to getting them. Infrequent cases of smaller canker sores are often caused by stress or a tissue injury. Other canker sore triggers include:

  • Viruses
  • Bacterial infections
  • Poor nutrition
  • Mouth tissue trauma
  • Lack of sleep
  • A weakened immune system
  • Hereditary factors

Family medical history and other health conditions can cause canker sores too, mostly due to reduced immunity. Celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Behcet’s disease, and HIV/AIDS can often lead to cold sore outbreaks.

Canker sores aren’t contagious, and they typically heal on their own without treatment. Unfortunately, they can still be very painful and make eating or talking difficult. If a canker sore hasn’t healed after 3 weeks, have it checked out by your doctor for underlying medical concerns. People who suffer from frequent canker sores should have an exam done as well.

Canker Sore Symptoms & Types

Canker sores appear inside of the mouth as round or oval sores with red border and a yellow, gray, or white center. Canker sores usually develop:

1. On the top surface of the tongue and the tip of the tongue

2. Underneath the tongue, on the floor of the mouth

3. On the gum tissue

4. The inside of the cheek or lip

Not all canker sores fall into the same category. A canker sore can be classified as one of three types based on size and duration:

Minor canker sores, or simple canker sores, can be painful but often heal on their own within two weeks of onset. They can vary in size but typically get no bigger than a ⅓ inch.

Major canker sores are also known as complex canker sores and are larger than minor canker sores. They usually last longer than two weeks and appear to have an irregular lining with oddly shaped margins. They are typically present in chemotherapy patients or with patients diagnosed with aids.

Herpetiform canker sores are dozens of closely grouped lesions that appear as a larger sore. These sores may last anywhere from a week to a month.

What’s the difference between cold sores and canker sores?

Cold sores, also called fever blisters, are different than canker sores. The easiest way to spot the difference is location — cold sores develop on or around the lips whereas canker sores occur inside the mouth.

Cold sores are red, fluid-filled blisters that typically develop in groups. Unlike canker sores, these sores have a known cause and can be contagious. Fortunately, both types of mouth sores are common and generally heal on their own within a few weeks.

Canker Sore Treatment

Treating a canker sore can be tricky with no sure form of treatment to follow. Some popular at-home remedies include hydrogen peroxide, antacid tablets, and homeopathic medicines. More serious canker sores may need additional treatment.

How to treat canker sores:

Prescription mouth rinse: You have to visit your doctor or dentist for this one but they can prescribe a steroid mouth rinse to reduce pain and inflammation for chronic canker sores.

Over-the-counter products: Your local drugstore carries a variety of topical products – pastes, creams, gels, liquids – which may help relieve pain and speed the healing process. This typically works best when the product is applied shortly after onset.

Nutrition: Watch what you eat if canker sores are continuously a problem for you. Canker sores have been linked to not consuming enough folic acid, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, and zinc. Boost your intake of these nutrients and the sores may clear up on their own.

In more serious cases, a medical or dental professional may recommend cauterizing the cold sore to prevent further damage or infection. Other solutions your doctor may choose include Debacterol to reduce healing time or silver nitrate for pain relief.

Natural Treatment for Canker Sore Symptoms

Soothing snacks like milk and yogurt can temporarily relieve symptoms of canker sores, but other powerful natural remedies include the following:

  • Aloe Vera can be taken as a drink or applied topically for pain relief
  • Dissolve one teaspoon of baking soda in a half cup of water and swish and spit several times to speed up healing
  • Apply a damp tea bag to the sore for 5 minutes. Chamomile tea is alkalizing and has anti-inflammatory effects
  • Steep 2 teaspoons of dried sage in a cup of boiling water, covered. Let cool and use to rinse your mouth 2-3 times per day
  • Essential oils like tea tree oil and clove oil can be used to kill bacteria and treat inflammation
  • For some people, honey is a quick-cure for canker sores
  • Combine a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar with a cup of water and rinse daily with the mixture
  • Dab a little Vitamin E oil on the canker sore twice a day to speed up healing
  • Gargle salt water to relieve pain and to speed healing
  • Coconut oil is natural anti-inflammatory so it can be used to help with pain and swelling

Canker sores that won’t heal within three weeks of onset should be examined by your physician.

Canker Sore Prevention

Practicing good dental hygiene is the best way to prevent canker sores, but there are other preventive measures to keep these pesky blemishes at bay.

Watch what you eat. Diet is directly linked to canker sores, cold sores, and other sores that develop on the soft tissues of our mouths. Certain foods can irritate these tissues, causing an outbreak. Common offenders include acidic, salty, and spicy foods.

Avoiding trigger foods isn’t the only way to prevent canker sores. Eating plenty of fruits, veggies, and other healthy snacks too.

Protect your mouth. If you have braces or other dental appliances, try using orthodontic wax to protect your cheeks and lips from any sharp metal surfaces.

Reduce your stress levels. Stress is a big contributor to canker sore outbreaks. Try stress reduction techniques like meditation, yoga, or guided imagery to keep stressful feelings at bay if you think stress may be causing your outbreaks.

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If you suffer from frequent canker sores, remember to use a toothbrush with soft bristles and avoid toothpaste or mouth rinses with sodium lauryl sulfate. Brushing and flossing regularly should dislodge any left-behind food that might lead to a sore, but keep other triggers in mind when navigating canker sore treatment at home.



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