Imagine that you’re brushing your teeth or diving into a plateful of your favorite food and you suddenly feel a sharp pain in your mouth. Once you get in front of a mirror you get a closer look and you see a small, white sore. You’ve just found yourself a canker sore, and they’re never fun. The good news is that your local Nashua and Merrimiack, NH oral health experts at Brar Family Dentistry are here to help you with all the information about canker sores that you need to know for prevention and treatment.
What Are Canker Sores?
A canker sore is simply a small, shallow ulcer or lesion that can develop on the soft tissues in your mouth, including the insides of your cheeks, the base of your gums, and even on your tongue. The sores typically have a white or yellow coloration with a red border and form in a circular or oval shape. The size of a lesion is about the size of a pea or a kernel of corn on average, but it is possible for the sore to be larger in certain cases.
Canker sores are often split into two main categories: simple and complex. Simple sores are the most common, especially among those 10 – 20 years old, with the average person developing a sore about 3 – 4 times each year. Complex sores are larger and more painful sores compared to simple sores. They are less common for the most part; however, people who have had canker sores in the past are at a higher risk of developing them.
Regardless of the type of sore, they are painful and can often make simple tasks like talking, eating, or brushing your teeth more difficult. Depending on the type of sore that you have, it can take anywhere from 1 – 6 weeks to completely heal.
The Difference Between Cold Sores & Canker Sores
Canker sores are often confused with cold sores, but they have some very distinct differences. While canker sores always appear on soft tissue inside of the mouth, cold sores appear outside of the mouth on the lips. As for their cause, canker sores can be the result of a wide range of factors, but cold sores are caused by a virus and are extremely contagious.
What Causes Canker Sores?
The exact cause of canker sores has yet to be perfectly pinpointed, but we do know the different factors that can increase the chances of developing them. The potential causes of canker sores are:
- Injury & Tissue Damage – Dental trauma caused by an impact during sports, irritation caused by orthodontic appliances or a chipped tooth, and anything that can damage the soft, sensitive tissue in your mouth can lead to the creation of a canker sore.
- Stress & Hormones – Heightened stress levels or fluctuations in hormones affect your body in many ways, such as higher blood pressure and blood sugar levels. These factors could potentially contribute to the formation of canker sores as well.
- Food – Highly acidic or spicy foods can cause enough irritation to the soft tissue to create a canker sore. Those with food allergies can also develop canker sores as an allergic reaction.
- Vitamin Deficiencies – low levels of iron, zinc, vitamin B-12, and folate are all linked to increased risk of developing canker sores.
- Allergic Reaction to Bacteria – There are approximately 100 – 200 types of bacteria in your mouth at any given time, and all it takes is an allergic reaction to one of these types of bacteria to result in a canker sore.
What Can I Do to Prevent Canker Sores?
Since there is no immediate cure to canker sores, getting one means that you have to wait for the sore to heal and go away on its own. That makes prevention the best option for fighting against canker sores. Actions that you can take to prevent the development of canker sores include:
- Managing Your Diet – Doing your best to avoid foods that will irritate your mouth like citrus or spicy foods can reduce your chances of getting canker sores. Meanwhile, filling your diet with healthy foods like vegetables and whole grains can give you essential vitamins and minerals to prevent the development of a deficiency.
- Maintaining Good Oral Hygiene – Remember how we mentioned that there can be 100 – 200 types of bacteria in your mouth at any time? If you have a great oral hygiene routine, there will be about 1,000 to 100,000 individual bacteria on the surface of each of your teeth. If you don’t practice good oral hygiene, that number jumps up to 100 million – 1 billion individual bacteria on each tooth, which can cause a lot more problems than just higher chances of canker sores, for example serious tooth decay.
- Protecting Your Soft Oral Tissue – If you play sports or use an orthodontic appliance, protecting your teeth may already be second nature for you, but make sure you’re also protecting the rest of your mouth. Wear a mouthguard to prevent your teeth from cutting into your soft tissue, or apply orthodontic wax to any sharp edges of your appliances so they don’t cause irritation.
- Keeping Low Stress Levels – While this may be easier said than done, trying to keep your stress levels low can reduce your risk of developing canker sores. Adding some stress relieving activities or habits into your routine will help your body in the oral health department, as well as in other aspects of your life!
When to See A Doctor about Canker Sores
While most canker sores will go away on their own, there are some cases where it is recommended that you seek out help from a doctor or dentist. Most often, cases of canker sores that require medical attention involve larger, more painful sores that appear and either do not seem to completely heal or consistently reoccur. It is also recommended that you see a doctor if the pain from a canker sore is too extreme and cannot be managed with an at home solution (such as pain killers or numbing medicine like benzocaine), or if you develop a high fever along with the sore.
How Are Canker Sores Treated?
For cases of canker sores that cannot be treated with at home remedies and require medical attention, treatment can vary depending on the patients’ needs and severity of the sore. One common treatment for canker sores uses a dental soft tissue laser, which helps close the wound, clear away any harmful bacteria, and jump start the healing process to provide immediate relief. Another effective treatment option for canker sores is the use of cleaning antiseptic medication, typically in the form of a mouth rinse. By rinsing with such medication 3 – 4 times each day, you can prevent infection and decrease the amount of time it takes for a canker sore to fully heal. For canker sores that are caused by vitamin deficiencies, simply taking a supplement to counteract the deficiency will often help speed up the healing process.
Contact Us for More Information!
If you have any questions about canker sores, how they are caused, and how to treat them, or if you are in need of professional dental treatment, contact us at Brar Family Dentistry! A member of our staff will be more than happy to answer your questions, and help set you up with a dental appointment in our local Nashua or Merrimack, NH office. Our talented dentists and dental team have been providing families with superior care for over 50 years, and we look forward to providing you with the high quality dental experience that you deserve. We hope to see you in our office soon!