The Bane That is the Canker Sore… Can Anything be Done?

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The Symptoms:

Chances are we’ve all had canker sores (or to get technical, aphthous stomatitis). These annoyances present as painful sores inside the mouth, including the tongue, soft palate and inside of the cheek. You may notice a tingling or burning sensation just prior to their development, and once there you’ll notice round white or gray lesions with a bright red border. Severe cases may even result in fever, physical lethargy and swollen lymph nodes – basically all the classic signs your body is fighting something more substantial.

Important to note: canker sores will NOT appear on the outside of your mouth – these are most likely cold sores. Unlike canker sores, cold sores are extremely contagious and caused by a viral infection, so if you think that may be the issue, consult your physician immediately.

The Cause:

Sadly no one knows for sure - it’s a mystery for the ages, this one. Factors that may exacerbate canker sores or increase their frequency include stress, smoking, or injury to the tissue. Certain foods – especially acidic foods like citrus fruits, figs and tomatoes – may also be triggers.

More complex cases of canker sores are thought to be linked to underlying health issues, such as nutritional deficiencies, an impaired immune system, and gastrointestinal diseases like Celiac’s or Crohn’s. Studies have been published by the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venerology and Journal of Oral Pathology & Medicine that have linked low levels of vitamin B12, folate and iron to the incidence of canker sores, though these proved a correlation more than an explicit cause and effect.

The Cure:

As you might have guessed, it’s hard to pinpoint a cure for something that doesn’t have a definite cause. Thankfully, these little pests usually clear up sans aid within a week, and the pain subsides after a few days.

For larger, more persistent sores, your dentist can prescribe an antimicrobial mouth rinse, corticosteroid ointment or other medication to lessen the symptoms. Our office has had particularly good luck using Debacterol®, a topical liquid agent designed specifically for the controlled debridement of such ulcerating lesions. It can be applied in office or written as a prescription for home use. Many pharmacies aren’t great at keeping Debacterol® in stock, so your dental office may be the best source for this remedy.

Some tricks that are thought to help lessen their duration and/or prevent their occurrence:

  • Avoid irritating foods – citrus, acidic vegetables, spicy foods
  • Avoid irritation caused by gum chewing
  • Eat foods high in vitamin B12, folate, iron (most meats, dairy products, leafy green vegetables, beans, etc.)
  • Brushing after meals with a SOFT bristled brush
  • Flossing daily

Though there is no cure, hopefully these tips help keep the issue at bay. As with any condition, if you suffer from canker sores that persist longer than a couple of weeks or have symptoms that significantly worsen, talk to your doctor or dentist immediately!