If you occasionally experience small sores in the softer tissues of your mouth, you may have aphthous ulcers or better known as canker sores. While rarely a health concern, they can be painful and annoying particularly when you’re eating and drinking.
These breaks in the skin or mucosa (the lining membranes of the mouth) usually occur in the thinner tissues found in the cheeks, lips, under the tongue or in the back of the throat. They tend to be most painful (especially while eating acidic foods like citrus or tomato sauce) between the first few hours of appearing and for a couple of days afterward, and will often occur during periods of anxiety, stress or after a minor injury. The sores will normally heal and fade within a couple of weeks.
Although occasional outbreaks of canker sores are quite common with most people, 20-25% of people (more often women) have a recurring form of painful outbreak known as recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS). Another variation called herpetiform aphthae, similar in appearance to herpes simplex virus sores, is characterized by smaller clusters of ulcers. While the specific causes for canker sores are still unclear, there’s some correlation between them and abnormalities with a person’s immune system, as well as with other systemic conditions like gastrointestinal disorders or vitamin deficiencies.
The basic treatment for canker sores is to first soothe the pain and promote quicker healing. Many over-the-counter medications are available for mild cases that numb the area temporarily and provide a protective covering while the sore heals. For more severe cases, there are also prescription medications (like steroids) that can be applied topically or through injection.
While canker sores are not contagious and usually benign, there are some situations that call for a dental examination: sores that haven’t healed within 2 weeks; increasing occurrences and severity of the sores; and never being completely free of a sore in the mouth. These may indicate some other condition, or be an occurrence of cancer or a pre-cancerous condition.
If you have any concerns, be sure to schedule a visit. We’ll be glad to evaluate any occurrence of the sores and recommend the best course of treatment to ease the pain and annoyance.
If you would like more information on canker sores or other types of mouth ulcers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Mouth Sores.”