“What Are Canker Sores?”

When you stay up way too late you might find pimples on your face and canker sores in your mouth – never fun to get! This painfully annoying little mouth sore – also known as an aphthous ulcer, can be quite bothersome to your eating and speaking actions for days. Thankfully, you can still kiss your loved ones with a canker sore, which are not contagious, different from viral cold sores (also known as a fever blister) caused by the herpes virus. Both are ulcerative sores in the mouth, but canker sores occur on the soft tissue inside the mouth. Cold sores tend to be on the outside of the mouth, around the lips.

canker_soresCanker sores can arise for many reasons; the most common are stress factors, like a lack of sleep. Stress can wear down your body’s immune system, making your oral environment more susceptible to ulceration. Food allergies or sensitivities (to acidic fruits or toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulfate for example) can trigger canker sore formation. The environment you are in can also stress your body and cause canker sores, like being in extreme heat or cold. Deficiencies in iron, folic acid, zinc or vitamin B12 will lead to a nutritional imbalance in your body, making you more susceptible to canker sores. Bacterial infection, hormonal imbalances and hereditary issues can all be causative factors. Finally, dental appliances or procedures which place pressure in specific parts of your mouth (like braces) can cause canker sores. Some physicians have theorized that canker sores are actually hereditary, but extensive research on this topic has not yet taken place.

So what do you do if you have a canker sore?  Improve your lifestyle! If you are able to extend your sleep cycle to between 7 and 8.5 hours of sleep nightly, maintain a balanced diet and master “stress management” at work, school and at home, your canker sore frequency will decrease. Canker sores are your body’s way of telling you to slow down and re-evaluate! Luckily, most canker sores will heal within 14 days (albeit painfully), unless your immune system was compromised. If you have a canker sore, avoid contact with it. Any unnecessary stimulation to the site can cause you to say ouch! Avoid spicy or acidic foods as this will further irritate the site. Make sure you are eating a well balanced diet, take supplements like vitamin B and C, and reduce your acidic fruit intake.

There are topical agents which can relieve canker sore symptoms, such as Milk of Magnesia, kenalog in orabase, tetracycline, suspension or low-level-laser-therapy (LLLT). Non-alcoholic mouthwash can also reduce the frequency of canker sores. If you do suffer from severe, frequent or lingering canker sores, speak with your dental professional or your primary health care physician.  Remember, the best path to a healthy, ulcer-free mouth is proper oral hygiene, a healthy lifestyle (including quality sleep) and a healthy, balanced diet – if you take care of your body, you can enjoy your quality of life even more.

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