Canker Sores: Causes and Treatment

Dr. Yazdan, our Newport Beach dentist, often sees patients with canker sores. Also known as aphthous ulcers or aphthous stomatitis, these lesions are small, painful ulcers that occur inside the mouth. They can be located on the tongue, or the inside of your cheek, lips, or throat, and come in a variety of colors including white, gray, or yellow, with a red border.

Are Canker Sores The Same As Cold Sores (Fever Blisters)?

A canker sore is simply an ulcer while a fever blister, or cold sore, is an infection that’s caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The latter is most commonly found on the outside of the lips and are very contagious, while canker sores are not.

Causes of Canker Sores and How To Avoid Them

Multiple factors are involved in the causes of canker sores. While there are certain triggers that people can learn to recognize, it’s believed that these ulcers are genetic, therefore some people are born predisposed to this condition.

Typically though, canker sores are caused by, and can be prevented, as follows:

Toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulfate (sls) – SLS is a cleansing agent that is found in toothpastes, other toiletry items, and many skin care products. SLS is used to make toothpaste thick and foamy.  Unfortunately, it can act as an irritant for some individuals. In fact, many people are sensitive to these sulfates and it causes ulcers on the inner lining of their mouth.

If you have persistent canker sores and can’t find any other cause of the problem, look at the label on your toothpaste. If it contains sodium lauryl sulfate, then discontinue its use and find a replacement toothpaste that doesn’t have SLS as an ingredient.

Spicy foods and acidic foods – Acidic foods, including citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, tomatoes, and coffee can all trigger a canker sore.

Spicy foods are also irritating to the sensitive lining of the mouth.

If you think that your diet has to do with the cause of your canker sores, then you should strongly consider altering your intake.

Stress – How stress causes canker sores isn’t well understood but it’s true that it does. It can also lead to issues like headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and difficulty sleeping. To destress, you may want to consider getting a massage, taking a vacation, seeing a therapist, or working out at the gym.

Injury to the mouth –  Injuring the inside of your mouth by brushing too hard, wearing braces or ill fitting dentures, or a removable mouthpiece can cause canker sores to develop.

Take extra care to prevent your sensitive oral tissue from injury.  Brush gently, get dentures and mouthpieces adjusted, and use wax over braces.

Certain diseases – Other causes of canker sores are gastrointestinal tract diseases such as Celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus or Behçet’s disease. Other conditions that weaken your immune system like a cold or the flu, HIV/AIDS, an organ transplant, or oral cancer are also known to be responsible for cold sores.

Medications – Certain drugs, including both prescription and non-prescription medications, may cause canker sores, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), beta-blockers, chemotherapy medicines, immunosuppressants, and sulfa drugs.

If you’re frequently getting canker sores and are taking a lot of medication speak with your primary care physician to see if your medicine could be the cause.  Perhaps you can stop taking certain ones or they will recommend something else.

Canker Sore Symptoms & Signs

For folks who regularly suffer from this irritating condition, it may be beneficial to learn to recognize the triggers, signs, and symptoms of a potential canker sore.

Typical signs and symptoms include:

  • Bleeding gums
  • A lump or mass on the gums
  • Painful gums
  • A burning, tingling, or prickling sensation on the area where a canker sore is likely to occur
  • Difficulty speaking, eating, or swallowing

As far as triggers go, keep in mind the things that cause canker sores which we touched on above.

How To Treat Canker Sores?

Usually, canker sores will go away without treatment within 5-7 days.

Some home remedies include holding an ice cube over the area to help numb the pain, or rinsing frequently with a mixture of warm salty water (never use hydrogen peroxide).

Certain over-the-counter products can be used to help relieve the pain and inflammation of canker sores, as well as help prevent infection. These items include, topical medications, specific mouthwashes, and protective patches.

Prescription anti-inflammatory medications and antibiotics are also available is needed.

When To Seek Professional Help

You should contact our Newport Beach dentist if you experience a canker sore that is larger than usual, is spreading, lasts more than a couple of weeks, causes severe pain, makes it difficult for you to eat or drink, or is accompanied by a fever.

Dr. Yazdan and our professional staff are always here to help. We’re more than happy to see you, so don’t hesitate to give us a call.

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