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What Causes Canker Sores?

Dianne L. Sefo, RDH, BA

Have you ever wondered what causes canker sores? You are not alone. Canker sores are fairly common. According to the International Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, an estimated 1 in 5 people have experienced canker sores. Canker sores are ulcerated lesions or sores that can develop anywhere in your mouth. They are most commonly seen on the inner surface of the cheeks and lips, tongue, base of the gums and roof of the mouth. There are three different classifications of canker sores: minor, major and herpetiform.

Minor canker sores are the most common type. They are small in appearance, round or oval, and have a white or yellow center and a red border. Major canker sores are less common, larger and deeper in size, and have irregular edges. Herpetiform canker sores are irregular in shape, very small in size and occur in clusters of up to 100.

What Causes Canker Sores?

Canker sores are not contagious, and they do not form as a result of the herpes virus as it is commonly thought. Although no one is certain what causes canker sores, several factors in combination can contribute to their appearance. The most common factors are:

  • Mouth Injury: Dental work, brushing, sports, cheek bite.
  • Food Sensitivities: Chocolate, coffee, highly acidic or spicy foods.
  • Lack of Vitamins and Minerals: Iron, folic acid, B12 and zinc.
  • Hormonal Changes: Such as those occurring during menstruation.
  • Conditions and Diseases: Especially those that affect the body's immune system.

Are You at Risk?

Anyone can get canker sores. Some people get canker sores 2-3 times in a year, while others have continual appearances. The first occurrence is generally between the age of 10 and 40 years old, however; there are certain factors that increase the likelihood of appearance. According to the Mayo Clinic, canker sores are more common in women and people with a family history of the disorder.

What Can You Do If You Have a Canker Sore?

The most painful period is in the first few days of appearance before the healing process begins. In some cases, it can be painful to eat or even talk during this period. The herpetiform and minor canker sores heal and disappear after about two weeks. They leave no visible scarring. On the other hand, major canker sores last several weeks, up to several months, and can leave extensive scarring. While healing, avoid consuming spicy or acidic foods and alcohol, which can cause pain in the area. Use a hydrogen peroxide mouth rinse such as Colgate® Peroxyl to cleanse and soothe the affected area. In addition, application of Colgate® Orabase paste on the affected area will help shield the mouth sores from irritants as well as provide pain relief.

Continue brushing and flossing your teeth daily. If any of the symptoms persist longer than two weeks, you experience pain not controllable with self-measures, you have large recurring sores or new sores appear before older sores have healed, contact your medical or dental practitioner. They will be able to diagnose your condition. Do not assume you have canker sores, as other more serious ailments can present with similar symptoms. If necessary, your medical or dental practitioner can prescribe other preventative measures including, but not limited to, prescription medication and prescription mouthwash.

Learn more about canker sores and treatment in the Colgate Oral Care resources.

Source: N/A

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