If you have a flat, white, round lesion inside your mouth, perhaps on your inner cheek or tongue, or even on your gum of the roof of your mouth, and it hurts like the dickens –especially when eating—you likely have a canker sore. You are probably wondering why you have the blasted thing and when will you be free of it. There may be other questions flashing through your mind and maybe this will answer them:
1. They are not contagious.
This is probably the most frequent question I see. Unlike cold sores, also known as fever blisters, canker sores are not caused by a virus so they cannot be passed on to another person by kissing, sharing food or drinking out of the same cup. However, when you have an oral ulcer it would be wise to avoid, shall we say, intense kissing, because that could possibly be a way of introducing unwanted bacteria to your mouth lesion.
2. That brings us to the next point. If mouth sores are not viral-caused, just what causes them?
The answer might surprise you: no one really knows for sure. Theories abound, and there are likely multiple causes. It appears that they can be triggered by accidentally biting your tongue or cheek or experiencing some other mouth trauma, even dental work. Others get them due to poor oral hygiene, food sensitivities or allergies, or eating spicing or acidic foods like tomatoes and pineapple. Other possible causes are a sensitivity to the sodium laurel sulfate in toothpaste or a vitamin deficiency. Some people are prone to outbreaks when they are under stress.
3. Canker sores only appear on the inside of the mouth.
If you have a sore on the outside of the lip it is probably a cold sore, although on very rare occasion cold sores can appear on the inside of mouth.
4. Women are much more likely than men to get them.
Why? Some experts theorize that hormone fluctuations may play a role. Interestingly, women who are prone to getting mouth sores tend to find that outbreaks go away during pregnancy. It is not known exactly why this occurs.
5. They can be hereditary.
For some people they appear to run in the family; if parents or siblings get canker sores an individual is more likely to get them as well. About one third of people with recurring mouth sores have other family members who also get outbreaks.
6. They can be a sign of gastrointestinal disorders such as Celiac Disease.
This disorder is also known as gluten intolerance. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and other grains and frequent, recurring mouth sores is a common symptom.
7. Smokers get fewer canker sores.
This seems like an oxymoron, but it appears to be true. You would think that people who smoke would be more prone to things like mouth sores due to a generally lowered immune system and the fact that tobacco would be an oral irritant. However, many former smokers report that when they kicked their habit they started getting canker sores. It could be due to a change in the alkalinity of the mouth, increased stress from giving up their daily fix or a side effect of the body’s attempt to purge all that nicotine from their system.
8. Most people get their first canker sore between the ages of 10 and 20 and about 80% of the popular have had a mouth sore some time in their life. It’s nice to know we are not alone in this.
9. Some canker sores can cause scarring.
However, this is fairly uncommon. Eighty percent of mouth sores are small lesions called minor aphthae and heal within a week or two without incident. About 10% of the cases are major aphthae, which are quite large, bigger than a pencil eraser, they can take weeks to heal and they can leave a scar. So if you have really big sores you should see your doctor or dentist.
10. While there are many canker sore treatments and home remedies available, ulcers will usually heal on their own in 7-14 days without treating them. Most remedies are palliative to ease the considerable pain and there are some, both over-the-counter and by prescription, that work rather well for pain relief. There are also many home remedies you can concoct, using ingredients you probably already have, that can help with the discomfort and may even speed the healing.