Say Goodbye to Canker Sores: Tips for Prevention and Treatment

An in-depth information at the causes, symptoms, prevention, and effective treatments for painful canker sores to help you find relief and improve oral health
Canker sores are also known as aphthous ulcers. These are small, shallow lesions that develop on the soft tissues inside the mouth or at the base of the gums. (Representational image: Unsplash)
Canker sores are also known as aphthous ulcers. These are small, shallow lesions that develop on the soft tissues inside the mouth or at the base of the gums. (Representational image: Unsplash)

Canker sores are also known as aphthous ulcers. These are small, shallow lesions that develop on the soft tissues inside the mouth or at the base of the gums. Unlike cold sores, canker sores don’t occur on the surface of the lips and aren’t infectious. They can be painful and make eating and talking very uncomfortable.

What are the Types of Canker Sores?

  1. Minor Canker Sores

    • Small, oval-shaped with a red edge.

    • Heal without any scarring in around one to two weeks.

  2. Major Canker Sores

    • Larger and deeper than minor canker sores.

    • Have irregular edges and it takes up to six weeks to heal.

    • May leave extensive scarring.

  3. Herpetiform Canker Sores

    • Rare and occur as clusters of tiny sores.

    • Often heals within one to two weeks.

Major Canker Sores have irregular edges and it takes up to six weeks to heal. (Representational image: Unsplash)
Major Canker Sores have irregular edges and it takes up to six weeks to heal. (Representational image: Unsplash)

Symptoms

  • Painful sores inside the mouth, on the tongue, soft palate, or inside the cheeks.

  • Tingling or burning sensation in the mouth before the sores appear.

  • Round, white, or gray sores with a red edge.

  • In severe cases, fever, physical sluggishness, and swollen lymph nodes.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of canker sores is still unknown, but several factors can trigger or contribute to their development:

  • Minor Injuries: From dental work, aggressive brushing, sports accidents, or accidental cheek biting.

  • Food Sensitivities: Particularly to spicy, oily and acidic foods.

  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Lack of essential vitamins like B-12, zinc, folate, and iron.

  • Hormonal Shifts: Such as those associated with menstrual cycles.

  • Stress: Emotional stress or lack of sleep can trigger outbreaks.

  • Allergic Responses: To certain bacteria in the mouth.

  • Medical Conditions: Like celiac disease, Crohn's disease, and weakened immune systems.

The exact cause of canker sores is still unknown, but several factors can trigger or contribute to their development. (Representational image: Unsplash)
The exact cause of canker sores is still unknown, but several factors can trigger or contribute to their development. (Representational image: Unsplash)

Prevention

Preventing canker sores involves minimizing risk factors and maintaining good oral hygiene. Here are some effective strategies:

  1. Maintain Oral Hygiene

    • Brush your teeth gently with a soft bristle toothbrush.

    • Use toothpaste and mouthwash that do not contain sodium lauryl sulfate.

    • Floss daily to remove food particles.

  2. Avoid Trigger Foods

    • Stay away from spicy, acidic, or rough foods that can irritate the mouth.

  3. Manage Stress

    • Practice stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.

  4. Boost Your Immune System

    • Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

    • Consider taking nutritional supplements if you have some deficiencies.

  5. Protect Your Mouth

    • Use dental wax to cover sharp edges of braces or other dental devices.

    • Chew carefully to avoid biting the inside of your mouth.

Canker sores are also known as aphthous ulcers. These are small, shallow lesions that develop on the soft tissues inside the mouth or at the base of the gums. (Representational image: Unsplash)
Old Video of Doctor Removing Beach Towel from a Python’s Mouth Resurfaces

Treatment

While canker sores usually heal on their own, treatments can help reduce pain and speed up recovery. Here are some effective methods:

  1. Over-the-Counter Products

    • Topical Pastes: Apply directly to the sore to reduce pain and inflammation.

    • Mouth Rinses: Antimicrobial mouthwashes can decrease bacteria in the mouth.

  2. Prescription Treatments

    • Oral Medications: Corticosteroids or other medications may be prescribed for severe cases.

    • Topical Treatments: Stronger prescription ointments or gels to promote healing.

  3. Home Remedies

    • Salt Water Rinse: Dissolve a teaspoon of salt in warm water and rinse your mouth several times a day.

    • Baking Soda Paste: Mix baking soda with a small amount of water to form a paste and apply to the sore.

    • Hydrogen Peroxide Solution: Mix equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water, and apply to the sore with a cotton swab.

    • Milk of Magnesia: Dab on the sore a few times a day to help reduce pain and speed healing.

    • Honey: Known for its antibacterial properties, honey can be applied directly to the sore.

  4. Lifestyle Changes

    • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep your mouth moist.

    • Avoid Irritants: Tobacco and alcohol can exacerbate canker sores.

While canker sores usually heal on their own, treatments can help speed up recovery. Corticosteroids or other medications may be prescribed for severe cases. (Representational image: Unsplash)
While canker sores usually heal on their own, treatments can help speed up recovery. Corticosteroids or other medications may be prescribed for severe cases. (Representational image: Unsplash)

When to See a Doctor

Consult a healthcare professional if you experience:

  • Unusually large sores.

  • Sores persisting for more than three weeks.

  • Severe pain that cannot be managed with over-the-counter medications.

  • Difficulty drinking enough fluids due to pain.

  • High fever or feeling physically unwell.

Canker sores can be more painful than you know. If the mouth sore has been sticking around for more than 7 days and is making eating, swallowing, and talking miserable, then it's best to visit your dentist. Canker sores usually resolve in 7-10 days, but if it is a jagged tooth margin, a sharp denture edge, or an underlying vitamin deficiency, then it's best not to wait.

Dr Medha Gupta, MDS Implantologist & MedComms Writer EU

Conclusion

Canker sores can be a painful and recurrent problem, but with proper care and prevention strategies, their frequency and severity can be significantly reduced. Maintaining good oral hygiene, managing stress, and avoiding known triggers can help keep canker sores at bay. If you suffer from frequent or severe sores, seek advice from a healthcare provider to explore more specific treatments tailored to your needs.

References:

1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/canker-sore/symptoms-causes/syc-20370615

2. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10945-canker-sores

3.https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/canker-sores

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546250/

5. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000998.htm

6. https://www.healthline.com/health/mouth-sores

7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546251/

(By Dr. Pragati Priya)

MSM

Canker sores are also known as aphthous ulcers. These are small, shallow lesions that develop on the soft tissues inside the mouth or at the base of the gums. (Representational image: Unsplash)
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