It’s estimated that about half of all people get occasional canker sores in their mouth. But, while most canker sores are pretty small (usually under one-half inch in diameter) they can often pack a big punch when it comes to painfulness. So, what are canker sores, exactly- and what, if anything, can you do to prevent them?

Apthous Stomatitis, also known as canker sores, are tiny, recurring ulcers that appear inside the mouth- usually on the cheeks, lips, tongue, the roof of the mouth, or at the base of your gums. Though many people only get one canker sore at a time, canker sores frequently appear in multiples. In fact, it's normal to have 2 or 3 canker sores concurrently, and it's not uncommon (or cause for alarm!) to have up to 10 or more canker sores at the same time, either!

While it is unknown exactly what causes canker sores, several factors could be contributing them- including genetic predisposition. It is believed that canker sores are caused by a problem with the body’s immune response and that they can be triggered by everything from hormones to stress to mouth injury (like biting your cheek!) and certain types of foods, such as spicy or highly acidic foods like citrus fruits. This can make preventing canker sores somewhat difficult, short of avoiding foods that may trigger them- but thankfully most canker sores don’t stick around very long.

The average lifespan of a canker sore can be anywhere from 3 to 10 days. This time does not include any initial pain or tenderness that develops before the actual ulcer appears. In some cases, patients may be prone to larger sores that are more painful and last longer, but these are slightly less common (but not cause for alarm, either). A common issue with larger sores that appear on the cheek is their ability to get in the way of activities like chewing- causing the patient to bite the sore during meals accidentally. This can then injure the canker sore, making it bleed, and making it take much longer to heal due to the secondary injury. In some cases, the injury will cause the canker sore to swell, which then makes it even easier to accidentally bite and injure again and again. Depending on the positioning of your canker sore, we recommend you chew slowly and intentionally, so you do not accidentally bite your canker sore while you chew. If you do, rinse with warm water after each meal, eat bland foods, and try not to poke at the canker sore with you tongue (easier said than done!). For most canker sores, however much like a blister on your foot, once the sore itself forms, the healing process is already underway, and will hopefully the pain will begin to subside shortly after that.

While there is no ‘cure’ for canker sores, you can treat them by applying oral numbing gels like Oragel or Ambesol with a cotton swab to the affected area only.  Rinsing your mouth with warm water may provide some comfort as well as aid in keeping the canker sore clean, and avoiding spicy or acidic foods while you have a canker sore will keep them from hurting more than they already do. Thankfully most patients find the pain of canker sores merely a nuisance and not a major discomfort, but for those who do find them exceedingly painful, an over the counter painkiller like acetaminophen or ibuprofen should help. For those who get frequent, painful canker sores there are prescription products that may help reduce the pain and help keep the area clean. If you think you may benefit from a prescription product, give Dr. Hill’s office a call at 469-640-9550 to discuss your options. Ultimately, the most important thing to remember about canker sores is that though they may be painful, they are nothing more than a nuisance, and not dangerous. Contrary to what you may have heard, they are not contagious, and they are not ‘cold sores’ or viral infections- canker sores are a natural immune response of the body that will heal on its own, and should not be cause for alarm.