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Canker sores (aphthous ulcers) are small, shallow, and painful lesions on the lips or inside the mouth. They appear as small round lesions with a white center (scientifically known as slough) and a red border (inflamed tissue).
The sores are a mixture of fluids, white blood cells, and bacteria. In some cases, canker sores can be as large as a quarter.
Canker sores don't form outside of the mouth; instead, they form in the following areas:
The exact duration of a canker sore can vary from person to person. However, there is a timeline that can serve as a guide for what to expect:
During the formation of a canker sore, it is not uncommon to feel some discomfort around the infected area. This includes:
If you have a severe case of canker sores, you may experience other symptoms, which include:
There are three types of canker sores. They are distinguished by their size, shape, and pain level:
Minor canker sores are the most common type, affecting more than 80 percent of sore sufferers. Characteristics of minor canker sores:
Major canker sores are more severe and appear less commonly than minor ones. Characteristics of a major canker sore includes:
Herpetiform sores are the least common type of canker sore. Characteristics include:
Common causes of canker sores include:
Poor oral hygiene allows bacteria to develop in the mouth. Maintaining good oral hygiene prevents this from happening. Keeping the mouth healthy includes:
Limiting hard, crunchy, unhealthy, or irritating foods (acidic) is also helpful in avoiding canker sores.
Oral injuries have many causes. These include:
Sustaining an oral injury through any of these means can increase the risk of developing canker sores.3, 5
Allergic reactions to food can cause the formation of canker sores. These foods include:
Toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) can cause canker sores. The ingredient is known to irritate the tissues inside the mouth and gums. If ulcers are recurrent, toothpaste is likely the culprit.
Excessive intake of sugar, processed foods, and citrus fruits can cause aphthous ulcers. It is recommended to eat salads with raw onions because they contain sulfur. Sulfur has antibacterial effects.
Hormonal imbalances can increase inflammation in and around the mouth. The hormonal imbalances that can cause canker sores includes:
Canker sores are not a symptom of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), which is a virus that breaks down cells in the immune system. Although, people with HIV/AIDS may develop severe sores more frequently than those without the virus.
Emotional or physical stress can cause canker sores in some people because excessive stress increases inflammation.
Frequent canker sores are associated with certain diseases and chronic health conditions. These health conditions include, but are not limited to:
The body needs a proper balance of acidity, minerals, and alkalinity to avoid canker sores. You may get canker sores if you're deficient in:3, 4
Yes, you can get tongue sores. These are typically caused by:
Regardless of your treatment, canker sores do not disappear within 24 hours. However, there are ways to avoid prolonging the healing stage.
You can use over-the-counter drugs like:
Doctors advise against popping canker sores. This can be extremely painful.
It's important to know that one possible side effect of tetracycline is a fungal infection called oral thrush. Ironically, oral thrush can lead to mouth sores.
In most cases, canker sores are a natural part of life. However, if you develop sores frequently, there are ways to prevent them from developing. Prevention tips include:
There are a few natural home remedies that can be used to help speed up the healing process and decrease irritation. Natural remedies for canker sore speed healing include:
Canker sores are not cold sores. They are noncontagious inflammations rather than infections.
The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is a highly contagious infection that causes cold sores (fever blisters). Cold sores are small, fluid-filled blisters that usually appear on the hard part of the gums or the outside of the lips.
HSV-1 spreads through close personal contact. This includes:
Herpes is a lifelong disease with no cure.
Canker sores are not contagious. You cannot get a canker sore by sharing food, utensils, drinks, or kissing an individual with a canker sore.
A cold sore (HSV-1) is contagious if an oozing blister is present. However, the sore is not contagious if it has completely scabbed.
Consult your doctor if your canker sore is large and lasts for longer than two weeks. Also, visit your doctor if the pain worsens and you can't seem to control it with home remedies.
Tests are not needed to diagnose a canker sore. Your dentist or doctor may recommend blood work if the ulcer(s) does not disappear on its own or if there is a severe breakout present. You may also benefit from a vitamin deficiency test if you experience frequent sores.
Canker sores normally do not have any complications or risks if they are caused by natural factors. In rare cases, canker sores can be an early sign of oral cancer (mouth cancer). Ulcers caused by oral cancer are typically painful, thicken over time, and do not disappear on their own.
Some possible complications of canker sores include:
Canker sores are small, painful lesions that develop on the inside of the mouth. They can be small or large and typically have a white, gray, yellow, or red border.
There are three types of canker sores and each one can vary in size, discomfort, and healing duration:
Most canker sores typically go away on their own within a week. If a canker sore lasts longer than two weeks, seek treatment.
Here are some frequently asked questions about canker sores:
You cannot pop a canker sore. They are shallow wounds, not pimples or blisters. It would be very painful to try and pop a canker sore.
Orajel™ Antiseptic Mouth Sore Rinse is the best mouthwash for canker sores because it aids in the healing process. Orajel also soothes cheek bites, gum irritation, and denture discomfort.
Canker sores can take anywhere between 1 to 6 weeks to heal completely. However, they typically hurt for 7 to 10 days. Minor canker sores heal in about 1 to 3 weeks. Major canker sores may not heal for up to 6 weeks. Another canker sore can also develop before the first one heals.
Milk of magnesia can help reduce canker sore pain and discomfort, while also speeding up the healing process.
Yes, saltwater has anti-bacterial properties that promote healing and help reduce pain symptoms. Rinse with a saltwater mixture (1 teaspoon salt per 1/2 cup warm water) 1-3 times today to help your canker sore heal. You may experience slight pain or discomfort while swishing.
Hydrogen peroxide products such as Orajel Antiseptic Mouth Sore Rinse can help heal canker sores quickly.
Canker sores are not contagious, so they cannot be spread through kissing. However, you may experience discomfort or pain from friction.
No. Canker sores are not contagious. Cold sores are contagious.
No, canker sores are lesions and are not associated with any viruses. Unlike cold sores, which are associated with viruses.
Use hydrogen peroxide products such as Orajel Antiseptic Mouth Sore Rinse to help heal your canker sores. OTC pain medications such as ibuprofen can help reduce pain. For frequent cold sores, talk to your dentist, they may prescribe you tetracycline.
Taking a 1000 mcg dose of vitamin B-12 at night can help reduce and prevent canker sore breakouts.
Visit your doctor if you get recurring, very large, or persistent canker sores (lasting two or more weeks).
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