You run your tongue over the surface of your gums and feel a small bump. Pulling back your lips reveals a small sore, white sore. There’s also a bit of pain in the area near the bump.
While the sudden appearance of a lesion on your gums, your tongue or the inside of your cheeks or lips can be alarming, you might be able to relax a bit. The lesion is most likely not related to gum disease and not the same thing as a cold sore, which is caused by the herpes virus. Instead, it’s probably a canker sore, a relatively benign lesion or ulcer that develops on the interior of the mouth for a number of reasons. While canker sores can be uncomfortable, they usually clear up on their own after some time and are often not a major concern.
Why They Develop
Several things can lead to the development of a canker sore. One of the more common causes of the sores is an injury inside the mouth. If you’ve ever accidentally bitten down on your inner cheek or lip, a sore might have developed a day or two later. Abrading the inside of your mouth by brushing too hard can also trigger the development of a canker sore. In some cases, the sores can develop if your mouth is injured playing sports or because of another outside factor.
Changes in your hormone levels can also trigger a canker sore. The sores are more likely to appear in women than in men, and may be more likely to develop during a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Sensitivity to certain foods or exposure to certain bacterias can also lead to a canker sore. For example, some people are very sensitive to spicy foods or to very acidic foods. People who have higher levels of the bacteria helicobacter pylori in their system might have an increased risk for canker sores. Helicobacter pylori is the bacteria that is largely responsible for the development of stomach ulcers, too. In some instances, nutritional deficiencies, such as low levels of iron or vitamin B-12 might play a part in the development of canker sores.
There’s also a chance that canker sores run in families. If your mom or dad deals with canker sores, you might be more likely to, as well. It could also be that you and your family share environmental causes of canker sores, such as eating a similar diet of foods that are likely to trigger the sores.
What You Can Do About Them
Usually, you can treat a canker sore at home without much issue, though you might want to see a dentist for help and advice if you have sores that occur frequently, last for longer than a few weeks, or that are very large.
Typically, when treating a canker sore, you want to minimize the pain and discomfort created by the sore. You can do that by placing a piece of ice by the sore, to numb the area. Rinsing the mouth with a mix of baking soda and water can also help relieve discomfort, as can dabbing a small amount of milk of magnesia on the sore.
You can also speak with a dentist about medical treatments. For example, a dentist might prescribe a mouthwash with dexamethasone, a steroid, to minimize the pain or inflammation, or recommend a product containing benzocaine to numb the area. If your canker sores develop because of a nutritional issue, your dentist might recommend taking a supplement to help improve your deficiency.
Avoiding spicy foods or other foods that trigger the sores can help minimize the discomfort when you have one. You do want to keep brushing your teeth and flossing daily, but you might want to use a gentler hand to avoid irritating the sore or making it worse.
Can You Prevent Them?
You might not be able to completely prevent canker sores, but making certain choices can help minimize the likelihood of them recurring. For example, if you know that eating something spicy triggers a sore, you can avoid that type of food. Practicing good oral hygiene can minimize any bacteria in your mouth that might trigger canker sores, as well. If the sores occur because you have a tooth that has a ragged edge or surface that is irritating the inside of your cheek or lip, you might consider speaking with your dentist about an implant to replace the damaged tooth.
In Miami, Florida, Dr. John Paul Gallardo and Dr. William Lamas can help you cope with canker sores and other oral issues, either by replacing damaged teeth or by helping you explore your oral surgery options. To schedule a consultation with the periodontists, call (305) 447-1447 today.