Complex Canker Sores: What They Are and How They're Treated

Almost everyone's had a canker sore before: those annoying, painful little sores that sometimes result from eating too much acidic food or accidentally biting the inside of your cheek. But for some people, canker sores are a serious problem. Complex canker sores can last for weeks and even leave scars. If you have a canker sore that's more than just a minor annoyance, it's best to educate yourself before seeing your health care provider about treatment and prevention options.

Regular vs. Complex

Regular canker sores are annoying and can make eating painful, but they usually heal by themselves in seven to ten days. Complex canker sores, according to the Cleveland Clinic, are much larger than the usual sore and can last up to a month. They are painful and sometimes debilitating. While regular canker sores result from stress, mouth abrasions or acidic food, the complex variety are typically a symptom of an underlying health issue. Complex sores can also have other symptoms, such as fever, swollen lymph nodes and sluggishness.

Causes of Complex Canker Sores

The severity of complex sores suggests that there might be another problem in play. Some of the health issues and diseases that can cause complex sores are:

  • Behcet's disease
  • Ulcers
  • Crohn's disease
  • Autoimmune deficiencies and diseases
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Allergies
  • Viral infections

Prevention and Treatment

The most important way to prevent complex canker sores is first and foremost to ask your health care provider about the health issues that can cause them. Treating these underlying issues may help you prevent complex canker sores altogether.

If you currently have a complex sore, the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests trying one of these over-the-counter treatments:

  • Analgesics and anesthetics. Analgesics are numbing products that contain medicines like benzocaine and help relieve the pain for a short time. Analgesics typically come in liquid and gel forms, which can be washed away by saliva. Make sure to always follow product package instructions on application frequency.
  • Occlusives. These are protective films that adhere over the sore to guard it during the healing process. They're available at most drugstores and typically last longer than analgesic medicines.
  • Antiseptics. Antiseptics use ingredients like sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or hydrogen peroxide to speed healing by killing excess bacteria around the sore.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Taking OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may alleviate the swelling and pain associated with canker sores. Make sure to follow package instructions and only take as directed.

If your canker sores are especially severe, your doctor might suggest taking prescription medications, such as antibiotics, to treat any accompanying infection. They also might recommend taking corticosteroids to reduce swelling and help heal your sores.

Complex sores can disrupt your life and make activities like eating and talking extremely painful for weeks. Since they're usually the symptom of something more serious, it's important to make an appointment with your health care provider to explore and diagnose the true reasons for these sores. A treatment plan can help you prevent the painful problem and finally find relief.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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