Have you ever noticed an unsightly and painful yellow lesion in your mouth accompanied by a red border? That tender spot is known as a canker sore.
Canker sores, also known as aphthous ulcers, are surface lacerations that form on your mouth’s soft tissue or the base of your gums and can cause painful discomfort while eating or drinking. Unlike cold sores, canker sores are not infectious and do not show up on your lips. They are, however, incredibly common and can cause significant discomfort.
They sometimes appear after eating something rich in vitamin C, such as orange juice or an orange. Canker sores are terribly painful when you eat salty foods such as mustard or ketchup. They can ruin the taste of a delicious burger or hot dog no matter how well they have been barbecued.
These raw ulcers can surface on your cheeks, gums, tongue or soft palate, and make it difficult to eat, drink, or talk. Even though they do not require any special treatment, sometimes canker sores may take unusually long to heal. In such cases, it is advisable to check with your doctor or dentist for further investigation and tests.
Symptoms of Canker Sores
In most cases, canker sores are white or yellow oval-shaped lesions with a red border. A day or two before the sores appear, you may experience an itching or burning sensation in the same spot. There are a few different types of canker sores, classified on the basis of their severity. Let’s take a look at them.
Minor canker sores: These are the most common type of canker sores. The minor type is normally oval-shaped, small, and is surrounded by a red border. It takes about one or two weeks to heal and does not leave a scar behind.
Major canker sores: They are relatively uncommon and are bigger than minor sores. Major canker sores are usually round in shape with clear boundaries. However, when they are very large, they can have uneven edges. They can be very painful and may take more than a month to heal completely, sometimes even leaving a scar behind.
Herpetiform canker sores: These uncommon canker sores develop much later in life. Unlike cold sores, they are not caused by the herpes virus. They are an isolated group of 10-100 sores that fuse together to form one large ulcer. They take about two weeks to heal without scarring.
When to See a Doctor
You should consider seeing a doctor if you notice any of these issues:
- Your canker sores are uncharacteristically big
- You experience recurring outbreaks and the new one pops up even before the old ones heal
- The sores take longer than two weeks to heal
- Overpowering pain that cannot be controlled with self-care
- Disruption of normal life functions such as eating, talking and drinking
- Canker sores followed by a high fever
What Causes Canker Sores?
It is still unclear exactly what canker sores. However, researchers believe that multiple factors contribute to their occurrence.
It is possible that canker sores are genetic, as most of the people who get them have a family history of them. But the most probable reason could be stress. Other reasons include dentures, braces, and acidic fruits that can irritate the mouth and lead to canker sores.
Experts say that no matter what causes the canker sores, they are all incredibly painful. When a tissue breaks, the nerves inside the mouth lining are exposed to food, drinks, saliva, and air. This means that even talking can induce pain by irritating the nerve endings.
Here are some of the possible reasons for canker sores:
- A cheek bite, injury caused by vigorous brushing, sports accident or any other minor injury inside your mouth
- Using mouthwash and toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulfate
- Sensitivity to certain foods such as eggs, coffee, nuts, cheese, acidic foods, strawberries, etc.
- Lack of folic acid, iron, zinc or vitamin B12 in your diet
- Allergy caused by particular bacteria
- Hormonal imbalance during menstruation
Canker sores may also develop due to following conditions and diseases:
- Celiac disease caused by gluten sensitivity, a protein found in most grains
- HIV/AIDS, which weakens the immunity system
- Declining immunity attacks healthy mouth cells rather than fighting bacteria and viruses
- Inflammatory bowel disease
Tips to Prevent Canker Sores
Canker sores can happen to anyone, but they are most commonly seen in women and young adults. They are recurring in nature. However, their frequency can be reduced by following these tips.
Watch your food: Be mindful of what you eat and avoid anything that irritates your mouth. Foods like nuts, chips, acidic fruits, pretzels, oranges, and pineapple have a tendency to cause mouth ulcers. But a lot of this food is healthy, so you have to weigh the pros and cons. You have to eat fruit! Scurvy and other diseases caused by not consuming vitamin C are far worse than canker sores. Avoid eating anything you are allergic to.
Only consume healthy foods: The best way to meet your body’s nutritional requirements is to eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Avoid stress: If you think that your canker sores are a result of stress, then consider using techniques that can eliminate pressure and help you live a wholesome life. Use meditation, yoga and an exercise routine to get rid of physical and mental anxiety.
Keep up with oral hygiene: Remember to brush your teeth, clean your tongue and floss your teeth after each meal. You should avoid eating anything that can trigger sores. Protect the soft tissue of your mouth with gentle brushing and avoid toothpaste that contains alcohol.
How to Treat Canker Sores
In most cases, canker sores will go away naturally after a few days. They usually don’t require treatment and there is nothing much you can do besides wait for them to go away. However, waiting for them to clear up can be agonizing and painful. You can follow a few tried and true home remedies to obtain relief from canker sores.
- Speak to your doctor or dentist about topical medicines or mouthwashes that can alleviate the pain or inflammation caused by canker sores.
- You can lessen your discomfort by allowing ice chips to slowly melt in your mouth.
- Completely avoid acidic fruits or spicy foods that can irritate the sore.
- Ask your doctor to prescribe you supplements to overcome vitamin deficiencies, if you have any.
- Use a gentle, circular motion to brush your teeth and mouth with a soft-bristled toothbrush.
- Avoid using toothpaste and mouthwash that contains sodium lauryl sulfate.
- You can use a home remedy for rinsing your mouth. Mix milk of magnesia with Benadryl and wash the affected area with it. You can also apply the mixture directly to the area with a cotton swab.
- Mix 1 tsp baking soda with ½ cup water and rinse your mouth with this solution. You can also use sea salt and lukewarm water.
- Consider taking vitamin C, vitamin B complex, and lysine to help accelerate the healing process.
- Other natural remedies include rinsing your mouth with sage and chamomile-infused water, which has soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Drink carrot and celery juice to ease the pain.
Before you use any of these home remedies, it is recommended that you consult a healthcare professional.
Prevent the Recurrence of Canker Sores
Needless to say, if natural healing or home remedies fail to solve the issue, and you are suffering from frequent outbreaks of canker sores, then it may be a sign of some other underlying medical issue. You should speak to a dentist or a medical professional if your canker sores reoccur before the last ones heal.Related: 8 Things Your Tongue Can Tell You About Your Health
While canker sores have been associated with genetics, some diseases weaken the immune system and can be responsible for their recurrence. Conditions like lupus, Celiac disease, HIV/AIDS and Crohn’s disease can be the underlying reason for recurring canker sores. This is why you should consult a medical professional to prescribe tests that can determine the cause of their frequency.
Some canker sores may also be caused due to a deficiency of acid lysine. Experts say that taking lysine supplements can solve the problem and help treat the sores, thereby preventing their recurrence. While you try to identify the cause of canker sores, it is important to keep your mouth clean, follow a routine of a balanced diet rich in fiber, and avoid eating foods that may aggravate the problem.