Canker Sores

Canker sores can really ruin your week.  They make everything from eating to drinking to talking painful.  Not everyone gets canker sores, but those who do know exactly what we mean.  This blog may help you understand why you get them when you do and how to deal with them.

What are Canker Sores?

“Canker sore” is the common name for an aphthous ulcer.  Aphthous ulcers are painful ulcerations or sores in the gum tissue inside the mouth.  They occur in specific areas of the mouth, including the inside of the lips and cheeks, the tongue, floor of the mouth, and certain areas of the gums.

There are three different types of aphthous ulcers:

  1. Minor Aphthous Ulcers

Minor aphthous ulcers are the most common type of canker sore.  These are small in size (usually not more than 5 millimeters in diameter), shallow, and last about one to two weeks.  They are painful, especially when they appear in an area that is in frequent contact with the teeth, like the side of the tongue.

  1. Major Aphthous Ulcers

Major aphthous ulcers are worse in every way.  They are larger (up to 1-3 centimeters in diameter), deeper, and can leave a scar.  These occur less commonly, but they can take up to six weeks to heal.  They are extremely painful.

  1. Herpetiform Aphthous Ulcers

The word “herpetiform” means like herpes.  These ulcers are not a result of a herpes virus, but they appear similar to the sores caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus type 1.  Like herpes, these ulcers occur as a cluster of multiple small sores clumped together.  We can easily tell the difference between herpetiform aphthous ulcers and actual herpes lesions by their location.  They each occur in very specific locations in the mouth with no overlap.

What causes Canker Sores?

Officially, no one knows the true cause of aphthous ulcers.  They are not the result of a viral infection like cold sores.  They are not linked with any specific autoimmune disorder.

While we do not know exactly what causes canker sores, we do know certain things that can predispose you to them.  For people who suffer from canker sores, they are more likely to happen under these circumstances:

  • Injury or trauma to the mouth – Many people develop aphthous ulcers in response to an injury to the lip, cheek or tongue. An area you bit your lip when chewing can quickly turn into a canker sore.  Some people develop ulcers around the site of an injection (shot) for dental anesthetic.  The body’s response to the injury or trauma is an ulcer.
  • Stress – People commonly report that they are more likely to suffer from aphthous ulcers when they are under stress. Anxiety can do strange things to the body, and one of them is making canker sores.  Minimizing stress and learning healthy ways to cope with it can reduce your risk of ulcers.
  • Poor immune health – By poor immune health, we mean a situation when your body may be fighting an illness or infection. This seems to increase the risk for aphthous ulcers in the same way that stress does.  While your body is busy fighting something else, these sores can pop up more easily.
  • Dry mouth – A mouth that does not have adequate saliva and the lubrication it provides is much more prone to sores. Saliva has many functions, and one of the most important is to keep the inner lining of the mouth moistened and lubricated.  This lubrication lowers the risk of injury from biting your lips, cheeks and tongue.  When the mouth is dry, ulcers are more likely.
  • Food allergies – Recent studies have linked certain allergies, like gluten, with frequent aphthous ulcers. Anything that increases inflammation in your body can predispose you to these sores.  Know your allergies, and avoid those things.

How to Relieve the Pain of Canker Sores

Because the exact cause of aphthous ulcers is still unknown, there is no cure.  Any treatment, therefore, works to relieve the symptoms of these sores until they resolve on their own.  There are some steps you can take, and there are some steps your dentist can take.

Steps You Can Take to Relieve the Pain of a Canker Sore

  1. Minimize chewing and talking. The more friction the ulcer receives, the more irritated it will be.  Stick to a relatively soft diet so you do not have to chew much.  Only talk when you must.
  2. Avoid harsh oral hygiene products. In general, most toothpastes and mouthrinses have harsh chemicals that will sting or burn if you have an ulcer in your mouth.  Avoid whitening toothpastes, which contain small abrasive particles.  Strong flavoring chemicals also irritate the tissues, so pick mild flavors only.  Use only alcohol-free mouthwash.  If your pain is severe, use a mild, non-foaming toothpaste and mouthwash like Biotene.  Its hypoallergenic formula is gentle on sensitive tissues.
  3. Avoid irritating foods and drinks. This includes all carbonated drinks (even sparkling water), anything with alcohol, and anything that is very hot temperature-wise.  Foods that are very acidic or spicy will also irritate the tender tissues, so avoid tomato-based foods and fruits.
  4. Treat dry mouth. If your mouth is dry as a result of prescription medications or a salivary dysfunction, make sure you are treating it as directed by your doctor.  Salivary stimulants, like Xylimelts, or replacements, like Biotene dry mouth gel, are wonderful products to use to keep your mouth well-lubricated.

Steps Your Dentist Can Take to Relieve the Pain of a Canker Sore

  1. Prescribe a soothing prescription mouthwash or topical cream. There are several prescription medications available to relieve the pain of an aphthous ulcer.  Many containing numbing agents to reduce pain while others have anti-inflammatory steroids to speed the healing process.
  2. Treat the ulcer directly with a dental laser. Studies show that laser treatments reduce the overall inflammation of an ulcer and speed up the healing process.  The sooner you catch the ulcer and treat it with a laser, the faster it will heal.
  3. Refer you to your doctor for vitamin therapy. Many patients experience aphthous ulcers and other sores in the mouth as a result of vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies.

Do You Have More Questions about Canker Sores?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with our dentists.  They can answer any question you have about canker sores and help treat any that occur.