What Causes Canker Sores?

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 the 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 centre 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 is commonly believed. Although there is no certainty regarding the cause of canker sores, a combination of several factors can contribute to their appearance. The most common factors are:

  • Mouth Injuries: Dental work, brushing, sports, cheek bites.
  • Food Sensitivities: Chocolate, coffee, highly acidic or spicy foods.
  • Lack of Vitamins and Minerals: Iron, folic acid, B12 and zinc.
  • Hormonal Changes: Those occurring during menstruation, for example.
  • Conditions and Disorders: 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 a year, while others have continuous outbreaks. The first occurrence is generally between the age of 10 and 40 years old; however, certain factors can increase the likelihood of an outbreak. 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 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. Herpetiform and minor canker sores heal and disappear after about two weeks. They leave no visible scarring. On the other hand, major canker sores can last several weeks or up to several months, and can leave extensive scarring. Avoid consuming spicy or acidic foods and alcohol during the healing process, as this can cause pain in the area. Use a mouth rinse to cleanse and soothe the affected area.

Continue brushing and flossing your teeth daily. Contact your medical or dental practitioner if any of the symptoms persist for more than two weeks, if you experience uncontrollable pain, if you have large recurring sores, or if new sores appear before the older sores have healed. 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 preventive measures, including but not limited to prescription medication and prescription mouthwash.

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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