Canker Sores: Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Canker sores are small, slightly raised bumps on the mouth, lips or gums. They typically are irregularly shaped and may have a white film on top. Although they are generally harmless, they can cause severe pain, especially if they are located in an area subject to lots of friction. In rare cases, canker sores can become infected, requiring antibiotic treatment. More commonly, they go away on their own after several days. Many people confuse canker sores with cold sores or oral herpes, but canker sores tend to be concentrated on the inside of the mouth while these illnesses are frequently on the lips. Canker sores are also softer and don’t normally appear in clusters.

The precise cause of canker sores is not known, but doctors have found several factors correlated with the development of canker sores. They tend to run in families, which could mean there is a genetic component. It is, however, just as likely that lifestyle habits learned within families contribute to canker sores. Many doctors believe there is a strong correlation between dietary choices and the condition. People with mild food sensitivities and people who eat a lot of spicy food develop sores more frequently. Vitamin B-12 deficiency can also cause canker sores. Stress, hormonal shifts and a depressed immune system also increase a person’s likelihood of developing a canker sore.

Canker sores don’t require medical care unless you develop a fever or the sore becomes very red and inflamed. This could indicate an infection. In most cases, however, home treatment is sufficient. Wash your mouth frequently with warm salt water, which aids in healing. Over-the-counter numbing gels can help ease the pain, and canker sore treatments can cover the sore, preventing it from becoming irritated by food and talking.

Take a daily multivitamin to decrease your likelihood of developing canker sores. If you eat lots of spicy food, brush your teeth and wash your mouth out with water immediately after eating. A balanced diet consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and plenty of water may also decrease your chances of developing painful canker sores.

If canker sores do not go away on their own after several days, or if they become very painful, consult your doctor. You may have another condition or an infected sore.

Mayo Clinic Family Health Book; Mayo Clinic
American College of Physicians Complete Home Medical Guide; American College of Physicians

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