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Canker sores are otherwise known as aphthous ulcers. A canker sore is a painful and exposed open wound in the mouth. Although canker sores are uncomfortable, they are often harmless and clear up by themselves. Canker sores are common and can usually be treated at home without visiting your dentist or doctor.
While anyone can develop a canker sore, women are more susceptible than men. Aphthous ulcers may also run in families.
It’s possible to have more than one canker sore at a time. They may grow larger or spread in the mouth. Canker sores usually develop on the inside of the cheeks and the lips and tongue.
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Canker sores are not cancerous and aren’t the same as cold sores or fever blisters.
Mouth sores develop for various reasons. These include:
Symptoms of canker sores include:
Severe symptoms of canker sores may also include:
Sometimes canker sores are confused with boils. While the two can sometimes appear similar, they are different. Boils form from infections that develop in the oil glands or hair follicles on the skin. Often boils start as a sensitive area of the skin that eventually firms. A boil usually contains a pus-filled center that oozes.
A canker sore is a flat ulcer that has lost the outer coating of tissue. It is not a fluid-filled lump or bump. It may be white, yellow, or gray with a red border. In some cases, a canker sore may ooze with pus. If this happens, the canker sore is likely infected.
Call a healthcare professional or seek immediate medication attention if you are experiencing the following from your canker sore:
A fever is also a symptom of infection.
Canker sores are shallow wounds. They are not blisters, boils, or pimples. Canker sores cannot pop as there is nothing to squeeze out.
An attempt at popping a canker sore is likely to be painful.
Canker sores burst, but not in the same way a pimple may pop.
When canker sores develop, your mouth may tingle before they appear. Shortly after, a small red bump forms. After a day or so, the bump bursts. A shallow white or yellow open wound is left with a red border.
There are several home remedies and over-the-counter treatments to speed up the healing process of mouth sores. However, it’s unlikely that any remedy or medication will cure a canker sore overnight.
Many home remedies to treat canker sores aren’t well-researched or studied, so approach with caution.
Some popular home remedies involve the use of:
Some over-the-counter sore treatments include:
If you have several mouth sores, your doctor may prescribe a mouthwash containing the steroid dexamethasone. This type of mouth rinse helps reduce the pain and inflammation of mouth sores.
Topical over-the-counter and prescription items may help reduce pain and speed healing when applied to individual canker sores. Topical products for mouth sores often include ingredients like benzocaine, fluocinonide, or hydrogen peroxide.
When mouth ulcers are severe or do not respond to topical products, oral medications may be prescribed. Ibuprofen may reduce pain from canker sores.
Oral steroid medications are also an option. However, they’re often prescribed as a last resort due to the possibility of severe side effects.
Most canker sores aren’t severe or a cause for concern. Mouth sores rarely prompt any side effects. However, some canker sores may require advice or attention from a doctor.
Speak to your doctor or a healthcare professional if you experience any of the following:
Canker sore: Care instructions, My Health Alberta, 2019, https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=uh3707
Mouth sores, MedlinePlus, 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003059.htm
Canker sore, MedlinePlus, 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000998.htm
Mouth ulcers, Nidirect Government Services, https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/mouth-ulcers