One of the most common ailments of the mouth is the canker sore. Canker sores are usually small, relatively shallow ulcers found inside the mouth (not to be confused with viral-based cold sores that erupt on or around lips). Generally, they make talking or eating painful or uncomfortable. They can usually be placed in one of two categories depending on their cause and period of affliction. Simple canker sores can appear several times in a single year and last as long as seven days. These most often affect people from age 10 to about 20 years old. Complex canker sores occur less often and usually reappear in people who’ve had them before.
Symptoms of a Canker Sore
Canker sores can affect not only your cheeks or gums, but also your tongue, palate, and the inside of your lips. The sores are typically round, white or gray in color, and some have a red ring or swollen red oral tissue surrounding it. A patient could have one big sore or multiple sores sprinkled in a certain area of the mouth. Although the sores themselves cause pain, severe cases may come with other symptoms. These can include a burning or tingling sensation prior to the appearance of sores, a spike in temperature, lethargy, or swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
Causes, Treatment, and Prevention of Canker Sores
For as common as canker sores are, the causes are very uncertain. It’s been theorized that stress or direct oral tissue damage, hormone imbalances during menstrual cycles, and acidic or spicy foods can trigger an outbreak or make the canker sore more tender and heal slower. Sharp or protruding pieces of tooth or orthodontic devices have also been linked to canker sores arising in the mouth. An ongoing study by Aftazen has thus far assessed over 10,000 people from 6 European countries and found that younger people, and more often females, deal with between 2-4 canker sores at a time and the re-occurrences very negatively affect their lives, from intimacy deprivation connected to fear of spreading the sores to sleep loss via pain. Other things thought to cause canker sores are smoking or recently quitting the habit, an impaired immune system, nutrition deficiencies, or gastrointestinal tract diseases like celiac or Crohn’s, or certain medications.
Since causes are unknown, so too are ways in which to prevent canker sores. Doctors often encourage those suffering to avoid the foods with high acidic levels and encourage them to make sure to brush and floss teeth despite the pain.
Treatment is hard to do since the cause isn’t always obvious, but canker sores usually go away within a week or so. Many doctors prescribe pain killers or other medications such as antimicrobial rinse or corticosteroid ointment to deal with the symptoms and let the sores heal on their own.
When a Canker Sore is Cause for Concern
Although canker sores are annoying, painful, and short lived, you should keep an eye on them and see a doctor immediately if they last longer than two weeks, spread rapidly throughout your mouth, maintain a high fever for more than a few days, or create enough pain that eating and drinking are impossible even with pain killers. These could be signs of a worse condition or even oral cancer, which often goes undetected in its early stages because of confusion with canker or cold sores.