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The Basics of Canker Sores

Lady With Canker Sores
Chances are that you have suffered from a canker sore at least once in your life. These small, painful sores are quite common, and for most people, they are just an occasional annoyance. For others, however, frequent or serious canker sores can make it difficult to talk, eat, and enjoy life.

In either case, canker sores are often misunderstood, and most patients are not aware of how to properly treat or prevent them. Keep reading to learn the basics about canker sores.

What Are Canker Sores?

The technical term for canker sores is aphthous ulcers. They are round or oval-shaped lesions that are white in color with a reddish border, and they appear in five primary areas of the mouth:
  • The cheek or lip lining
  • The underside of the tongue
  • The base of the mouth
  • The top of the mouth near the uvula
  • The back of the palate near the tonsils
Canker sores do not appear on the outside of the lips or the top of the tongue. If you have a sore in one of these areas, it could be a herpes lesion, a cancerous lesion, or the result of trauma — but it would not be considered a canker sore.

Most people notice the pain of a canker sore before they actually see the canker sore itself. This pain is quite sharp and is most noticeable when you eat or drink something acidic or salty. Touching the sore is painful, too.

What Causes Canker Sores?

Contrary to popular belief, canker sores are not caused by the herpes virus. Herpes causes blister-like lesions to form on the lips, gum tissue, or hard palate. Herpes lesions also have a scalloped outline, whereas canker sores are round or ovular. Canker sores are not contagious; you won't get canker sores from kissing or interacting with someone who has them.

Canker sores have no known, singular cause. Rather, a number of risk factors increase a patient's chances of developing these lesions. The risk factors include:
  • Poor immune system function
  • Deficiencies of nutrients such as vitamin B12 and folate
  • Hormonal changes, such as those experienced during menopause
  • Bumping or bruising your mouth
  • Biting your cheek
Some people notice that they develop canker sores in conjunction with a cold. It is not the cold virus that causes the canker sore. Rather, the stress of the cold on the immune system is thought to cause the sores. 

How Are Canker Sores Treated?

You don’t need to see the dentist or doctor for an average canker sore. It should go away within a week or two. In the meantime, you can use over-the-counter pain-relieving gels to ease your discomfort. An antiseptic mouthwash may also help reduce canker sore pain.

If a canker sore does not go away within two weeks, you should see your dentist. You may have mistaken a cancerous lesion for a canker sore, and your dentist may recommend a biopsy. If you do just have a stubborn canker sore, your dentist may prescribe a corticosteroid to reduce the inflammation in the area.

How Can You Prevent Frequent Canker Sores?

If you develop canker sores more than a couple of times per year, the following are a few lifestyle changes that may help reduce their frequency:
  • Switch to a toothpaste that does not contain sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS. This ingredient is thought to make canker sores worse in some patients.
  • Take steps to reduce your stress levels, such as meditating or engaging in hobbies you enjoy.
  • Eat a nutrient-rich diet.
The occasional canker sore is more of an annoyance than anything. However, if you have frequent or very painful canker sores, make sure you discuss this issue with your dentist. They can help you explore potential underlying health conditions or lifestyle practices that may be contributing to the problem. If you're searching for a new dentist, contact Moana Dental Care to make an appointment today.

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