As caretakers and proponents of oral health, we often field questions pertaining not only to teeth, but to general mouth health at Madison Family Dental. Not surprisingly, given the relatively unsavory nature of the topic, our patients don’t know a lot about canker sores and often come to us with questions: “What are canker sores? What causes them? How do I treat them?” Below, we answer patients’ most common questions when it comes to canker sore causes and treatments.
What are canker sores?
Canker sores are small white or gray ulcers that occur on the tongue, gums, or linings of the lips and cheeks. They may be quite painful, and can often make talking or eating difficult. Canker sores are not uncommon, affecting roughly 20% of people, more so women than men. There is evidence that they might be hereditary.
What causes canker sores?
There are two types of canker sores: simple canker sores occur a few times a year, most often in children and young adults aged 10 to 20, and can last up to a week. Simple canker sores can be triggered or perpetuated by a number of things:
- Acidic or citrus fruit and vegetables, such as oranges, pineapples or strawberries
- Spicy food
- Sharp tooth edges and dental appliances such as braces
- Vigorous tooth brushing
Complex canker sores are less common and are generally caused by more serious, underlying health issues such as the following:
- Weakened immune system
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Gastrointestinal tract diseases like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease
What is the difference between canker sores and cold sores?
Contrary to the common misperception that canker sores and cold sores are the same thing, they are, in fact, quite different. Cold sores are fluid-filled blisters caused by a virus. Unlike canker sores, they are very contagious. While canker sores occur inside the mouth, cold sores appear outside the mouth, typically around the lips or under the nose.
How can I treat or relieve the pain of a canker sore?
Fortunately, most canker sores require no treatment, and heal on their own after about a week. To expedite the healing process, there are a number of in-home remedies available, including topical creams, mouthwashes, and over-the-counter medications. Often, something as simple as rinsing with warm water, or drinking or eating cool, dairy-based products such as milk and yogurt can relieve canker sore irritation. It’s important not only after the emergence of a canker sore, but as part of a healthy oral routine, to brush and floss teeth daily to prevent a bacterial infection.
Do canker sores ever warrant attention by a medical professional?
If a canker sore lasts more than three weeks or is accompanied by a fever, rashes, or joint pain, it should be addressed by a medical professional. If a canker sore also causes difficulty swallowing, a trip to the dentist or doctor is in order.