What are Canker Sores and How Do You Treat Them Properly?

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What causes painful canker sores and how can you treat them?

Two Types of Canker Sores

Canker sores (aphthous ulcers) are common white and red sores located inside a person’s mouth. These painful sores are often divided into two categories: simple and complex.

Simple (minor) canker sores typically occur between 10 and 20 years of age, appear a few times per year, and last approximately one week. Complex (major) canker sores aren’t as common, but they’re bigger and more painful. In some cases, they can last a month or longer and may leave behind a scar.

What Causes Canker Sores?

While medical researchers have been unable to provide a precise scientific explanation of why canker sores develop, there are multiple factors that have been identified. Some of these include health conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, compromised immunity, Crohn’s disease, and allergies. Other identified factors include physical trauma, food sensitivity; nutritional deficiencies such as iron, folic acid, zinc, and vitamin B12, and even stress.

Symptoms of Canker Sores

The most obvious and common symptom of a canker sore is noticing that one has appeared inside your mouth. There typically isn’t a lot of warning, but you may feel a tingling sensation before one shows up. Although you may see one in the mirror or feel it in your mouth, you’re much more likely to start with a sensation of pain because they can be quite uncomfortable. Other less common symptoms of these painful sores include having a fever, feeling sluggish, and experiencing swollen lymph nodes.

How to Treat Canker Sores

Although there isn’t a cure for canker sores, treatment can be done through home remedies or prescription therapies.

Here’s a quick look at both:

Homemade Remedies

Several types of home remedies can relieve pain, reduce severity, and speed up healing. Here is a popular home remedy that has proven effective:

  1. Rinse with mouthwash or salt water.
  2. Rinse with a solution of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water.
  3. Apply the solution to the sore with a cotton swab.
  4. Dab a small amount of milk of magnesia on the sore.

These home remedies have proven effective as well:

  • Zinc gluconate lozenges
  • Vitamin C, vitamin B complex, and lysine
  • Sage and chamomile mouthwash 4 to 6 times per day
  • Carrot, celery, and cantaloupe juices

Prescription Therapies

Any type of prescription therapies will also be aimed at easing the symptoms rather than treating the canker sores themselves.

Here are a few things that a doctor or dentist may prescribe:

  • Antibiotics to minimize inflammatory irritation
  • Anesthetics to ease irritation and pain
  • Topical immunosuppressant medications such as cortisone
  • Topical corticosteroids such as dexamethasone rinse or fluocinonide gel
  • Referral to an oral specialist

How to Prevent Canker Sores

Canker sores pop up without warning and there may not be any actual way to prevent them. However, you can keep them from getting worse by avoiding these things:

  • Abrasive foods such as potato chips
  • Spicy, acidic, or hot foods and drinks
  • Harsh contact with toothbrush bristles

Canker Sores Vs. Cold Sores

It’s very common for people to confuse canker sores and cold sores. There are three primary differences between them:

  • Appearance – Canker sores present themselves as white circles with a red “halo” while cold sores are typically fluid-filled blisters.
  • Location – Canker sores are inside the mouth whereas cold sores are on the outside around the mouth.
  • Transmission – Canker sores aren’t contagious, but cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus or genital herpes virus, both of which are contagious.

When You Should See a Doctor

In most situations, a canker sore will go away on its own even when it’s caused by an existing health condition. However, if you notice that the sore doesn’t get any better after a couple of weeks or gets worse despite using a few home remedies (which we’ll go over below), then it may be time to see a doctor. Other symptoms that will necessitate a visit include having a fever, headache, skin rash, or diarrhea.

When You Should See a Dentist

Many people don’t consider seeing a dentist if they have a canker sore, but it’s important to remember that a dentist is educated on problems with the mouth as well. Also, canker sores can sometimes be caused or exacerbated by sharp teeth. If that’s the case, then your dentist will want to examine your mouth and teeth to see if a dental procedure would alleviate the recurrence of canker sores. He or she can also provide treatment regardless of why they’re occurring.

Contact Dr. Ferullo to Learn How to Treat Canker Sores

The St. Petersburg dentist office of Dr. Ferullo can assist you with oral hygiene issues and any dental needs. If you have questions about how to treat canker sores or would like to set up an appointment, contact us by calling (727) 822-8101.

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