Should You Worry About a Canker Sore?

Posted by Dr. John Paul Gallardo, DDS, PA
Minor sores can be treated at home. However, complex ulcers in the mouth need to be treated by a dental professional
For severe sores, treatment with a dental expert will help

You’ve got a sore inside your mouth that’s painful to the touch, and you’re wondering if you should worry. That all depends on the type of sore you have. A canker sore, for example, is usually benign, while other types of mouth sores can signal more serious concerns, such as cancer or herpes.

What are Canker Sores?

Canker sores, also known as aphthous ulcers, are small, painful ulcers that form inside the mouth. They are usually white or yellow in color with a red border. These sores can appear on the tongue, inside the cheeks or lips, and on the gums. While they can be uncomfortable, canker sores are generally harmless and heal on their own within a week or two. However, they can be quite painful and cause discomfort while eating or drinking.

Knowing whether to worry about your sore or not means understanding what’s causing it and what you can do about it.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Canker Sores

Being able to recognize the symptoms of a canker sore can help you take appropriate action to treat it and prevent further discomfort. Some common symptoms of canker sores include:

Burning or Tingling Sensation

The first sign of a developing canker sore may be a burning or tingling sensation in the mouth. This sensation typically occurs before the sore becomes visible and can last for a day or two.

Red, Open Sore

Canker sores appear as red, open sores inside the mouth. They can be round or oval in shape and may have a raised border.

White or Grayish Center

The center of a canker sore is often white or grayish in color. This color is from the formation of a protective layer of cells over the ulcer, which helps to shield it from irritation.

Pain with Eating and Drinking

Canker sores can cause pain when eating or drinking, particularly when consuming acidic, spicy, or hot foods and beverages. This pain can make it difficult to eat and drink comfortably, which can lead to dehydration and malnutrition if not addressed.

Swollen and Irritated Lymph Nodes in Neck & Jaw

In some cases, canker sores can cause swollen and irritated lymph nodes in the neck and jaw area. This is a sign that the body is fighting an infection or inflammation.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Canker Sores

Generally speaking, there are three types of aphthous ulcers:

Minor sores

Minor sores are small and typically have a healing time of a week or two and can be treated at home.

Major sores

Major canker sores can be more problematic, as they are deeper and larger than minor sores and can be considerably more painful. They also take longer to clear up, needing as long as six weeks in some cases.

Herpetiform canker sores

Herpetiform canker sores are the rarest form of an aphthous ulcer. They typically consist of tiny, pin-sized sores in groups of anywhere from 10 to 100. The sores get their name because they look like herpes, but like other aphthous ulcers, they are not caused by the herpes virus or viral infections. Older people are more likely to get herpetiform ulcers, which usually clear up within two weeks.

Complex canker sores are a rare type of ulcer that can be more serious than minor or major sores. They tend to last longer and may be accompanied by swollen lymph nodes, fever, and fatigue. If you have a complex sore, see your doctor as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and treatment.

What Causes Canker Sores

If a virus doesn’t cause canker sores, what does? Several things can trigger the development of a sore in your mouth. It can be something as innocent as accidentally biting the inside of your cheek or lip while chewing. In some cases, a sharp piece of food, such as a potato chip or pretzel, can irritate the inside of the mouth enough to trigger a sore. A chipped tooth that is irritating the gums or cheeks can also cause a sore to form.

Some people have sensitivities to certain foods that make them more likely to develop an ulcer. For example, foods such as chocolate, cheese, and nuts can trigger a sore. Acidic or spicy foods can also cause some people to develop a sore in their mouths.

Hormone levels and food allergies can be the cause of sores in the mouth
Mouth ulcers can be caused by certain foods and nutritional deficiencies

There are many other potential causes of aphthous ulcers, such as:

  • Changing hormone levels
  • Stress
  • Certain types of bacteria, such as helicobacter pylori, also cause stomach ulcers
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (found in many kinds of toothpaste)
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Food allergies

Having another condition, such as Celiac disease, inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s Disease, or HIV/AIDS, can make a person more likely to develop aphthous ulcers. In some cases, oral procedures, such as the best dental implants Miami may also be the cause of sores.

Prevention and Treatment Strategies for Canker Sores

There are several at-home treatments and preventive measures you can take to manage canker sores:

  • Rinse your mouth with a saltwater solution or a mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide
  • Apply a topical numbing gel or cream to the sore to relieve the pain
  • Use a soft toothbrush and avoid toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing regularly
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and consider taking a multivitamin supplement
  • Avoid foods that may trigger canker sores, such as acidic or spicy foods
  • Manage stress through relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga

Professional dental treatment for canker sores

If dental work, such as a retainer or a broken or chipped tooth, is irritating the tissue inside the mouth and contributing to sores, your dentist might fit you for a better retainer or recommend the best dental implants in Miami to replace the damaged tooth.

After dental implants, it is possible to have minor sores. Your dentist will apply the best treatment for these mouth ulcers. 
Aphthous ulcers can appear after a dental procedure such as dental implants

Figuring out the sore’s trigger helps your dentist figure out the best course of treatment for you. For example, if you tend to develop sores after eating hard, sharp, or crunchy foods, avoiding those foods can help you avoid irritating the existing sore and can help you avoid triggering new sores. While you wait for a sore to heal, it’s a good idea to avoid spicy or acidic foods, as they can make the discomfort worse.

Since low levels of B vitamins are often connected to the development of canker sores, your dentist might recommend taking a B vitamin supplement regularly or daily.

Prescription Medication for Pain Relief

Your dentist may prescribe a topical corticosteroid ointment or an oral medication to help reduce inflammation and pain associated with canker sores.

Antimicrobial Mouthwash to Prevent Infections

An antimicrobial mouthwash can help prevent infections in the mouth and promote the healing of canker sores. Your dentist may recommend a prescription-strength mouthwash or an over-the-counter option.

Silver Nitrate to Help Heal the Sores

Silver nitrate is a chemical cauterizing agent that can be applied to canker sores to help reduce pain and promote healing. This is an antiseptic topical skin treatment that inhibits the growth of bacteria. 

Laser Treatment for Faster Healing

Laser treatment can be used to reduce pain and inflammation associated with canker sores and promote faster healing. This treatment should only be performed by a dental professional with experience in laser therapy.

Canker sores after dental implants

The best dental implants in Miami, FL, provide a secure, permanent solution that looks and feels natural. However, a potential risk associated with implants is the possibility of developing minor canker sores after the procedure.

In that case, your dentist may recommend topical treatments such as corticosteroid creams or ointments to reduce inflammation and speed up healing. In more severe cases, your dentist may suggest oral medications such as antibiotics to help treat a possible infection. Lifestyle changes such as avoiding certain foods that could trigger the sores or taking vitamin supplements to help boost your immune system are recommended.

Finally, some people need medical treatment to help heal their severe canker sores. If you have a major sore and it hasn’t cleared up on its own within a week or two, your dentist might cauterize the sore to drain it and speed healing. He might also prescribe a mouth rinse to help numb the area or to help minimize inflammation while the sore heals.

Canker Sores FAQs

What is the difference between complex and regular canker sores?

Complex canker sores are a rare and more severe type of canker sore, often accompanied by swollen lymph nodes, fever, and fatigue. They may take longer to heal and require professional dental treatment. Regular canker sores, also known as minor sores, are more common and usually heal on their own within a week or two with proper at-home care.

Is canker sore lack of vitamin C?

A lack of vitamin C can contribute to the development of canker sores, as it is essential for maintaining healthy gums and oral tissues. However, canker sores can also be caused by various other factors, such as stress, food sensitivities, and hormonal fluctuations. If you suspect a vitamin C deficiency, consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and supplementation recommendations.

Are canker sores fungal or bacterial?

Canker sores are not caused by fungal or bacterial infections. They are a type of oral ulcer that can be triggered by various factors, including stress, hormonal fluctuations, and certain foods. However, secondary infections can develop in canker sores if they are not kept clean and properly treated.

What does a normal canker sore look like?

A normal canker sore appears as a small, round, or oval-shaped ulcer inside the mouth, usually white or yellow in color with a red border. They can be painful, especially when eating or drinking, and may cause a burning or tingling sensation before fully developing.

What cream is good for cold sores in the mouth?

It is important to note that cold sores are different from canker sores and are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Over-the-counter creams containing acyclovir or penciclovir can help reduce the severity and duration of cold sores. However, it is always best to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

What is the best oral med for cold sores?

Oral antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir, are often prescribed to treat cold sores, especially in severe or recurrent cases. These medications can help reduce the duration and severity of cold sores, as well as the risk of complications.

Schedule an appointment with us!

A sore might not seem like a big deal. But, if it is interfering with your quality of life, it can be. Talk to a dentist today if you’re experiencing this kind of ulcer and want to know what is causing it and how to treat or cope with it. Dr. John Paul Gallardo can recommend at-home treatments or medical treatments to help you get relief. Ask him about affordable dental implants, as well. Schedule a consultation with a Miami periodontist today.