Canker sore 101
Getting a canker sore is painful, unlike other common problems in the mouth, canker sores do not always have a definitive reason for their occurrence. Following a few simple guidelines will reduce the likelihood of a canker sore, but it’s important to remember that while frequency can be decreased it won’t always prevent future sores from developing.
Canker sores are small, shallow lesions, usually grey or white “holes” or small craters, sometimes with angry red edges that form on soft tissues in your mouth such as gums, cheeks and even on the tongue. Canker sores are not on the lips, or outsides of the mouth, like cold sores–they are always inside the mouth. Canker sores are not contagious like cold sores and are not caused by a specific virus but infections and illness can make our mouths more susceptible. Canker sores can appear as a solitary lesion or in groups of two to six small lesions. The patients with the highest frequency of canker sore occurrence range in age from around ten years old to about twenty years old. Ultimately, cold sores can happen at any age.
The increased incidence of canker sores in young patients may be related to how frequently young patients immune systems are challenged. A canker sores can be disruptive to eating and sleeping habits, but they do go away on their own in a matter of days, not lasting longer than about two weeks at most. While a canker sore may not be a sign of imminent “oral doom”, they are extremely uncomfortable and painful, and in patients who are prone to them, getting more canker sores sooner, rather than later, is likely.
Things likely to increase canker sore frequency:
- Hormones–Fluctuations in hormones can stress normal responses in the immune system and affect other normal functions in the body.
- Stress–Both physical stress to the mouth itself, or the body can weaken the mouths protective and restorative abilities, as can excess stress of any kind. Physical, mental, emotional stress–if in abundance–impair our bodies ability to run all of its many systems efficiently. Canker sores are actually mini ulcers inside the mouth, resting and maintaining good stress management can help reduce canker sore frequency and duration.
- Oral Trauma–Just as mentioned above–stress can cause canker sores, stressing the sensitive tissue inside your mouth with aggressive brushing, using a firm bristle instead of a soft brush, or from appliances worn inside the mouth that rub all are linked to higher instance or canker sores and mouth ulcerations.
- Viral infection–While no specific virus has a direct link to causing a canker sore, viruses do compromise and strain the immune system. Staying hydrated and resting during an illness can help your body save energy to fight the infection and help prevent a subsequent cancer sore or other secondary infections.
- Vitamin or mineral deficiency—In historic times people were much more likely to suffer from scurvy and other disease processes brought on by malnutrition, these days thats far less common but canker sores still find a frequent link in people who are depleted, even minimally, of various minerals and vitamins. A diet lacking in vitamin B, zinc and folate (folic acid) or those who have low iron are the most susceptible to canker sores brought on due to nutrition.
Immune system compromised
- Food sensitivities and food allergies–Another culprit to recurring canker sores; foods that you may be sensitive, or allergic to or foods that are especially caustic as in the case with pineapple and other acidic fruits.
- Health conditions like Crohn’s–or other immune compromising diseases–Those who suffer from any condition that impairs the digestive system or severely compromises the immune system are much more predisposed to experience recurring canker sores.
Prevention tactics and strategies
- Avoid foods that are irritating or that you have potential allergies to.
- Avoid aggressively brushing, too hard toothbrushes.
- Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated, saliva helps keep vulnerable tissues healthy.
- Choose healthy foods high in complex vitamin B and other essential nutrients like zinc and folate.
- Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing morning and night and also flossing daily.
- Manage stress with healthy activities and periods of rest, and ensure you get a proper amount of sleep every night.
If you do find yourself suffering with a painful canker sore there are some things that may help mitigate the discomfort even if they don’t cure the problem overnight.
Try these tips to alleviate canker sore pain:
- Rinse your mouth. Use salt water or baking soda rinse (dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1/2 cup warm water).
- Dab a small amount of milk of magnesia on your canker sore a few times a day.
- Avoid abrasive, acidic or spicy foods that can cause further irritation and pain.
- Apply ice to your canker sores by allowing ice chips to slowly dissolve over the sores.
- Brush your teeth gently, using a soft brush and foaming-agent-free toothpaste.
- Homeopathic treatments and options are numerous as well. Coconut oil can help soothe and coat the ulcerated tissues while inhibiting bacterial growth. Some people find the appropriate essential oil may decrease pain and increase healing by supporting overall tissue health.
Treating a canker sore can generally be done over the counter but your dentist can prescribe medicated rinses and ointments that contain steroids, or other medications if indicated. Please call if for an appointment if you have severe canker sores, repeatedly experience them, have more than a couple at a time, have a sore lasting longer than two weeks or experience any other symptoms with your canker sore, such as fever, lethargy, difficulty swallowing, unusually large sores, pain that is not alleviated with over-the-counter medication, or sores that are spreading.