Canker sores are small sores or ulcers that appear inside the mouth, usuallyon the inside of the lips, cheeks, and/or soft palate. They can also occur onthe tongue and in the throat. Often, several canker sores will appear at thesame time and may be grouped in clusters. Canker sores appear as a whitish,round area with a red border. The sores are painful and sensitive to touch. The average canker sore is about one-quarter inch in size, although they can occasionally be larger. Canker sores are not infectious.
Canker sores are sometimes confused with cold sores. Cold sores are caused byherpes simplex virus. This disease, also known as oral herpes or fever blisters, can occur anywhere on the body. Most commonly, herpes infection occurs on the outside of the lips and the gums, and much less frequently on the inside the mouth. Cold sores are infectious.
The exact cause of canker sores is uncertain, however, they seem to be related to a localized immune reaction. Other proposed causes for this disease aretrauma to the affected areas from toothbrush scrapes, stress, hormones, and food allergies. Canker sores tend to appear in response to stress. The initialsymptom is a tingling or mildly painful itching sensation in the area wherethe sore will appear. After one to several days, a small red swelling appears. The sore is round, it is a whitish color with a grayish colored center. Usually, there is a red ring of inflammation surrounding the sore. The main symptom is pain. Canker sores can be very painful, especially if they are touchedrepeatedly, e.g., by the tongue. They last for one to two weeks.
Approximately 20% of the U.S. population is affected with recurring canker sores, and more women than men get them. Women are more likely to have canker sores during their premenstrual period. Since canker sores heal by themselves,treatment is not usually necessary. Pain relief remedies, such as topical anesthetics, may be used to reduce the pain of the sores. The use of corticosteroid ointments sometimes speeds healing. Avoidance of spicy or acidic foods can help reduce the pain associated with canker sores.
Alternative therapies for canker sores are aimed at healing existing sores and preventing their recurrence. Several herbal remedies, including calendula (Calendula officinalis), myrrh (Commiphora molmol), and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), may be helpful in the treatment of existingsores. Compresses soaked in teas made from these herbs are applied directlyto the sores. The tannic acid in a tea bag can also help dry up the sores when the wet tea bag is used as a compress. Taking dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) tea or capsules may help heal sores and also prevent future outbreaks. Since canker sores are often brought on by stress, such stress-relievingtechniques as meditation, guided imagery, and certain acupressure exercisesmay help prevent canker sores or lessen their severity.