Canker Sores: How to prevent and treat them

Everyone has suffered from a painful little oral lesion: the canker sore. These dreaded little lesions can pop up and cause some serious oral pain, and most often they appear out of nowhere and really put a damper on ingesting most foods and beverages for a few days (at least).  So, a little helpful info on these horrible ulcers to prevent them and how to treat them if you do get them.

What are canker sores?

They are little round or oval oral ulcers  with a white or yellow inside and a read border. They are also known as aphthous ulcers that are usually found on the soft tissues inside of your mouth (inside of lips, cheeks, tongue, base/roof of mouth), and they can cause a lot of pain when eating and drinking. They usually heal all on their own in a week or two, and they are not contagious to other people.  Canker sores are not the herpes simplex virus as some people tend to think.  If you have a canker sore that is really large or not healing, you should speak to your Healthcare Practitioner (HCP) about it, because they really should heal on their own, and if it’s not healing, it might not be a canker sore!

canker sore


What are the symptoms?

As stated above they are usually pretty small round ulcers that can have a white/yellow middle and are usually red around the border of the lesion and they are normally pretty painful.  Some people feel a tingle the day before they occur, but I must say, I don’t think I have every felt a tingle…I just feel the pain when they arrive.  There are some cankers known as major canker sores and they are much larger and deeper and can take up to 6 weeks to heal. And there are also cankers sores that can occur and they are in clusters of small little ulcers, and they make take three or four weeks to heal.  By far, the most common type of canker sore is the one I first described and are called minor cankers.

However, there are a few symptoms that you may have, and you should see your HCP about:

– Non-healing ulcers OR new ones occur before the others heal (constant cankers)

– Really large cankers

– Canker sores that spread onto the outside of your lips

– Extreme pain, causing you real discomfort, and causing difficulty eating/drinking

– If you have a fever or any other symptoms along with the canker sores

What can cause Canker sores?

– Highly acidic (like citrus) or spicy foods, a burn (from hot food), teeth grinding, or anything else that can cause swelling/inflammation

– Food allergies or sensitivities can lead to inflammation, then the sores can form

– Hormonal shifts (women, you may notice an increase in canker sores when you are about to menstruate. Another reason being a woman is awesome!)

– Emotional stress

– If you are immunosuppressed due to a chronic disease (such as HIV/AIDS) or are on medications to suppress your immune response, you may get more canker sores than most people.

– Also, people with certain chronic diseases are more at risk: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Chron’s disease, or Behcet’s disease.

How can I treat/prevent them?

So, know that we know what causes them, we can try to prevent some of the stuff that causes them, and/or preferably treat them!  Avoiding spicy foods or highly acidic foods (like citrusy foods) and sometimes adding folic acid, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and zinc can help these ulcers from occurring. But, once you have them, or know you are going to get one, especially if they are major canker sores, your HCP can order you for a mouthwash that has the steroid dexamethasone in it to help decrease the inflammation and aid with the pain, and in some cases they may also add an antibiotic rinse (depending on the suspected cause). You can create a mouthrinse of your own using water with a teaspoon of baking soda in it to ease the pain. You can use orajel, or other over the counter (OTC) oral pain relievers, or dab some Milk of Magnesia on it twice a day to seal the ulcer and to help with the pain and allow the ulcer to heal on its own. Some histamine-2 blockers, like pepcid, may help to prevent the inflammation and prevent the ulcers form occurring, if it is related to any sort of allergy or sensitivity, which means that you can also swish liquid Benadryl orally, as a mouth rinse, and it can help to ease the symptoms as well. And if you have recurrent canker sores that cause you trouble with eating and drinking, and nothing else works, they may cauterize (burn) the sore to help decrease healing time, but the procedure can be quite painful and is a very invasive treatment.

There are plenty of ways to ease the discomfort of these little ulcers, but if you eat something that tends to cause them, use one of the at home oral rinses (baking soda or benadryl) to help and prevent them from occuring.  And remember, if they are really large or not healing, you should get checked out by your HCP.

Yours in Good Health


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