Do you ever get sores in your mouth that seem to appear for no reason and then disappear just as mysteriously? Chances are they’re aphthous ulcers — better known as canker sores.
These are irritating breaks in the protective lining of the mouth (oral mucosa) — akin to a blister without its dome — that are yellowish/grayish in the center surrounded by an aggravated red border. They typically develop in movable, thinner oral membranes such as the cheeks and lips, under the tongue, or the soft palate at the back of the mouth. Because they expose underlying tissues, canker sores can be quite painful, especially when eating or drinking.
Recurrent aphthous ulcers (RAS) affect up to 25% of the population, making them one the most common oral conditions. They are considered “minor” when they are smaller and “major” when they exceed 1 centimeter in diameter. Larger ones take more time to heal and may cause scarring. A less common type is herpetiform aphthae, so named because the small clusters of ulcers that characterize it are similar in appearance to those caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV1). However, unlike herpes-related cold sores and fever blisters, canker sores in any form are not contagious. Another difference is that ulcers from the herpes virus occur more frequently on the gums and hard palate.
There is no clear cause for canker sores. They often appear during stressful periods and times when resistance is down, suggesting an immune system malfunction. They may also be an allergic reaction to ingredients in food or oral products like toothpaste or mouthwash or related to an underlying medical conditions such as gastrointestinal diseases or nutritional deficiencies.
Canker sores usually resolve on their own within seven to ten days. Various over-the-counter and prescription treatments can help facilitate healing and help minimize pain along the way. If they do not resolve within two weeks; or they increase in severity, frequency or duration; or you’re never without a mouth sore it’s important to seek dental or medical attention as they could signify a more serious condition.
If you would like more information about canker sores, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Mouth Sores.”