Ubiquitous and icky, there is a good chance you have experienced this topic in your personal life. It starts with a small pain inside your mouth with that rubbed raw feeling. Anytime you eat salt or drink something sour it stings. In the theme of Jeopardy, the correct question to this clue is “what is a canker sore?”
That is what we are here to explore in this piece.
What is a Canker Sore?
Aphthous ulcers, the medical term for canker sores, are tiny to medium lesions that develop mostly on the mucous membranes of the body. You can find them inside the mouth, on the tongue, along the gum line, and less often in the throat or on a tonsil.
Unlike sores from a virus (herpes, impetigo, etc), canker sores are not contagious. They hold little real threat to your health, but they can be painful.
If you prefer a visual representation, find pictures and images of verified canker sore diagnoses in an image search. The internet is full of helpful comparisons.
What Causes Canker Sores?
Modern medicine has theories to the origins and has connected some dots on triggers. However, what causes canker sores hasn’t been discovered for certain. Some identified triggers include:
- An injury. Biting the inside of your mouth could create a canker sore, for example. Orthodontics or improperly fitted dentures could produce friction that contributes to the problem.
- Weak immune system. Could be genetic or due to an autoimmune dysfunction like HIV, IBS, or Crohn’s.
- Menstrual cycle hormonal shifts.
- Vitamin deficiency, specifically B-12, iron, folic acid, and zinc.
- Food sensitivities to items like chocolate, strawberries, coffee, nuts, eggs, spices, dairy, or acid.
- Toothpaste. The ingredient sodium lauryl sulfate, often in dental hygiene products, is usually the culprit.
Canker Sore Symptoms
Self-diagnosis starts with quality fact-checking. The following is a canker sore symptoms checklist. If you have more than one of the following, you probably have canker sores:
Tingling or burning before a visible sore appears.
White or gray sores with a red border.
Pain in the spots when eating, drinking, or touching.
The spots can come on in stages, occasionally progressing to large persistent sores. See a doctor if the flare-up is accompanied by fatigue, rashes, eye irritation, or stomach pain.
How to Get Rid of Canker Sores
A straightforward cure doesn’t exist for canker sores. How to get rid of canker sores is usually to wait them out. While you are healing, avoiding certain behaviors can provide pain relief like:
- Eating irritating foods. Remove salty, acidic (citris, tomatoes, etc.), or spicy foods until the mouth is healed.
- Chewing gum. Anything that repeatedly contacts the sore will spur irritation.
- Alcohol. The spirits themselves could hurt, plus dehydrating the body could slow healing.
Canker Sore Treatment
In addition to eliminating triggering activity from your life, you can mitigate discomfort in the meantime. Active canker sore treatment methods include:
Ice. If the sore is close enough to the surface of the cheek, you can use an ice pack to numb the area. Sucking on ice cubes could provide similar relief.
Other than pain management, there isn’t much you can actively pursue to rid the body of canker sores. Prevention could include identifying your personal sparks and dodge those. Keeping your general health a priority is also an effective tool for preventing outbreaks. When you are run down, the body’s reaction to minor infractions becomes magnified.
Canker Sore Medicine
There are both prescription and over-the-counter substitutes available to make living with canker sores tolerable. Canker sore medicine comes in various forms:
Mouth rinses. Popular mouthwashes contain the steroid dexamethasone or lidocaine to numb pain. Physicians reserve these scripts for patients with multiple or severe canker sores.
Gels and creams. Active ingredients are usually Benzocaine or Fluocinonide.
Oral pills. Prescriptions are reserved for extreme cases, but doctors will administer a few drugs in an off-label fashion. Carafate, for example, is a pharmaceutical invented for intestinal ulcers, but can be used to coat mouth sores. Colchicine, used for the gout, shows promise as well.
Canker Sore Remedies
A canker sore won’t spread to your loved ones and will generally resolve itself in one to two weeks (sometimes even overnight). No need to rush to the hospital when you can play nurse with a home remedy from your own cabinets. Try some of these canker sore remedies:
Hydrogen peroxide. This ingredient is common in OTC rinses (Orajel Antiseptic Mouth Sore Rinse, Colgate’s Peroxyl), but you can also mix it yourself. Dilute with water and swish around for 30 seconds. Do not swallow.
Baking soda. Dissolve baking soda (1 teaspoon to 1/2 cup of water) into water. Rinse the mouth and spit down the drain.
Essential oils. Concentrated oils can stop symptoms and prevent infections. Beneficial oils for canker sores include tea tree, clove, wild oregano, peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, and niaouli.
Salt water. Stir together sea salt (preferably organic) and warm water. Swirl around the mouth for 10-15 seconds and spit out. The salt will pull out pus or infection. Be warned: it might sting.
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