What are canker sores?

A canker sore is also known as aphthous ulcer, and it is small, open and painful ulcers that appear in the mouth. This is one of the most common types of mouth ulcers and it makes eating and talking very difficult. Sometimes it also appears inside the lip and cheek area. It is normally white or yellow in color and is surrounded with red and inflamed soft tissues.

A canker sore can be of two types which are – simple and complex.

  • A simple canker sore is one that reoccurs three to four times in a year. This is most common in individuals who are between 10 to 20 years of age.
  • A complex canker is a rare mouth ulcer and it occurs in individuals who have had this problem before.

Canker sores are not contagious and they get cured within 1 to 3 weeks and do not necessarily require any treatment. However serious sores may take around six weeks to get completely healed. The pain may usually last for 7 to 10 days.

One must meet the doctor or dentist if he/she develops the following problems;

  • Large sores
  • An outburst of sores
  • Unbearable pain
  • Reoccurring sores, new sores start to appear before the old sores are healed
  • Persistent sores that lasts for more than two weeks
  • High temperature with canker sores
  • Unable to eat or drink

What are the symptoms of canker sores?

The symptoms of canker sores are as given below;

  • A tiny white or yellow ulcer in oval shape
  • Painful red area
  • Tingling sensation

In certain situations, the individual may experience some other symptoms which include;

  • Inflamed lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Feeling unwell

What are cold sores?

Many a times there is confusion of cold sore and canker sore being the same. But they both are not the same. Unlike canker sores, cold sores are developed outside the mouth and are highly contagious. Cold sores can also appear around the lips, nose and eyes. Cold sore is also known as fever blisters or herpes simplex type 1.

They are painful fluid-filled blisters and not inflamed sores; they gradually become sores once the blisters pop. Cold sores are causes by a virus called as herpes simplex virus (HSV). This virus is present within the body and can be triggered by factors like – stress, over exhaustion and sunburn.

What are the causes and risk factors of canker sores?

An individual has more chances of getting canker sores if he/she has a family history of canker sores. Deficiency of certain vitamins like B-3, B-9 or B-12 can make a person more prone to getting canker sores. Also deficiency of minerals like zinc, iron and calcium can cause or worsen the canker sores.

Canker sores can be caused due to various factors, some of which include;

  • Stress
  • Food allergy
  • Hormonal changes
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Deficiency of certain vitamins or minerals
  • Viral infection
  • Mouth injury

And in some cases it becomes very difficult to know the actual cause of a canker sore.

How to diagnose canker sores?

The doctor or dentist will be in a position to diagnose canker sore by conducting a physical examination. At times they may ask for some blood test or biopsy of the portion if they suspect the following;

  • Presence of virus
  • Deficiency of vitamins or minerals
  • Hormonal problem
  • Issues with the immune system
  • Also in cases of severe outburst of sores

A cancerous lesion will look very similar to a canker sore, but this cannot be cured without treatment. Some of the symptoms of oral cancer and canker sores are common like painful ulcers and swelling in the neck. But in cases of oral cancer, there will also be other symptoms like – bleeding from the mouth or gums, loose teeth, difficulty to swallow, pain in the ear etc. If a person is having any of these symptoms along with canker sores, then he/she must meet a doctor immediately for knowing the actual cause of these symptoms and taking the necessary treatment.

How to treat canker sores?

Normally canker sore gets cured without any treatment, but there are some lifestyle changes that can be beneficial, like;

  • Brushing and flossing the teeth twice a day to avoid any bacterial infections
  • Avoid eating spicy food, since this will help in curing the sores quickly
  • Drinking milk or eating yogurt or ice cream will give some relief from pain.

The pain may be very severe at times, and in such cases one can gargle with a mouthwash or salt water. This will help to reduce the pain even though initially this method might make the person little uncomfortable.

The doctor will prescribe medications of the canker sores are not getting healed within two weeks and there is unbearable pain. There are also some over the counter medications available for healing canker sores quickly.

What are the home remedies to treat canker sores?

Apart from the lifestyle changes, there are few home remedies that can be useful in treating the sores, these are;

  • Applying small ice cubes or milk of magnesia on the sores, this will give some relief from the pain and also help in faster healing
  • Rinsing the mouth with hot water and a spoon of baking soda, this will help the healing process and reduce pain
  • Applying honey on the sores as it is effective in healing the sores

What are the complications of canker sores?

If a canker sore is left untreated for a couple of weeks and is not healed it can lead to several complications like;

  • Pain or difficulty while talking, brushing or eating
  • Tiredness
  • Spreading of sores outside the mouth
  • Fever
  • Cellulitis (skin infection)

One must meet the doctor is he/she is experiencing unbearable pain, uneasiness and if the home remedies are not improving the condition of the canker sore.

How to prevent canker sores?

The recurrence of canker sores can be prevented in the following ways;

  • Avoid eating any such food that had previously caused the problem. Mostly it includes very spicy, salty or acidic food.
  • Avoid food that causes itchiness in mouth, swelling on tongue or hives
  • If the canker sores are developed due to stress, one must start practicing stress reduction and calming methods like deep breathing, meditation etc.
  • Practice good oral health and make use of a toothbrush with soft bristles to prevent irritation to the gums and the tissues.
  • Consult the doctor to know if there is any deficiency of certain vitamins or minerals in the body and this can be known with some tests. Basis the reports, the doctor will be in a position to create a diet plan and also prescribe supplements if required.

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