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Canker Sore in Houston, TX: Is It A Dental Emergency?

Canker sores are painful lesions that can plague your mouth throughout a lifetime. But what are they exactly?

By Jennifer
Photography by Pete

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From oral cancer lesions, canker sores, and cold sores, mouth sores are an incredibly common problem we see here at Nu Dentistry. Depending on the type and their symptoms, they can even be a dental emergency. Looking at canker sores alone, 1 in 5 of our patients is likely to have one at some point. They generally appear between the ages of 10 and 20 years old, but anyone can develop a canker sore.

What is a canker sore? A canker sore, or mouth ulcer, is a small lesion that can appear on your inner mouth’s soft areas, like the cheeks, lips, tongue, and base of the gums. What first starts as a small bump in the mouth can later grow into a white, gray, or yellow patch, which can be surrounded by a border of red, inflamed tissue. Canker sores are not contagious, but they can be very painful, causing a burning or tingling feeling in your mouth.

What Causes Canker Sores?

Unlike with other mouth sores, we don’t know the exact cause of canker sores. However, it’s believed that certain conditions may put you at a higher risk for developing canker sores:

  • Stress
  • Small cuts and injuries to the mouth
  • Allergies to certain oral bacteria
  • Sensitivity or allergic reaction to sodium lauryl sulfate in toothpastes and mouthwashes
  • Sensitivity to citrus, acidic, and spicy foods
  • Weakened immune systems, such as with HIV and AIDS
  • Diets low in vitamin B12, zinc, and iron
  • Hormonal changes during menstruation
  • Celiac and Crohn’s disease
  • Family history of canker sores

Women are also twice as likely to develop canker sores than men, especially during their teen and adolescent years. This is because hormonal changes during a woman’s menstrual cycle can affect how the mouth reacts to certain oral bacterias. Women on their period are also more likely to experience bleeding gums, swollen salivary glands, and gingivitis.

In most cases, mouth ulcers are not a dental emergency. They clear up on their own, even without a canker sore treatment. However, you may need to have your lesion looked at by your Houston dentist, depending on how long the sore lasts and any other accompanying symptoms.

How Long Do Canker Sores Last?

The timespan of your canker sore depends on which type of ulcer it is. There are three kinds of canker sores, depending on the severity: minor, major, and herpetiform. Minor canker sores are often small and ovular, usually lasting no more than two weeks. Major sores, which occur less frequently than smaller ones, go much deeper into the mouth’s soft tissues. They usually require more time to heal, sometimes up to six weeks. When they do heal, however, they can leave their mark with permanent scarring.

Herpetiform canker sores are the least common type, appearing as a cluster of anywhere between 10 and 100 sores. As each sore is usually very small, they often heal in a week or two without scarring. However, these sores can sometimes merge into a single lesion. If this happens, please see your Houston dentist.

You should see one of our dentists at Nu Dentistry if you experience any of these unusual canker sore symptoms:

  • Mouth ulcers larger than normal
  • Additional ulcers appearing before older ones clear up
  • Ulcers lasting more than two weeks
  • Lesions extending to the outer lip
  • Difficulty eating and drinking
  • Excruciating pain
  • High fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Multiple sores
  • Rash

If your sores appear multiple times in a single year, please see us for an examination. In these cases, it can help to understand if any underlying causes are triggering your recurring problem.

Canker Sore vs Cold Sore

Canker sores and cold sores are often confused with one another, but they are not the same. Cold sores are little blisters that appear on the outer lip and often itch, burn, and leak fluid when broken. They can also appear inside the mouth, like a canker sore, occasionally developing on the gums, tongue, and roof of the mouth. Cold sores usually disappear on their own within 7 to 10 days. Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for cold sores. Once the infection has been contracted, it can reappear later if triggered. These triggers can include:

  • Stress
  • Cold, flu, and high fever
  • Too much sun exposure
  • Hormonal changes during menstruation and pregnancy
  • Small cuts and injuries to the mouth
  • Facial surgery

Unlike canker sores, cold sores are highly contagious. Although it is caused by herpes simplex virus, this oral herpes doesn’t have to be transmitted sexually like most people expect. It is most often acquired from coming into contact with saliva during childhood or teenhood. This can be from sharing a water bottle, borrowing a parent’s chapstick, or kissing someone with a cold sore. Even touching a cold sore can carry the virus. Patients with an active cold sore should frequently wash their hands and keep from touching their faces until the ulcers have fully scabbed over.

How To Get Rid Of Canker Sores

Most canker sores clear up on their own within a few weeks. However, the time between can be excruciating, especially if they last for longer than expected. So how do you heal a canker sore fast? To help quicken your canker sore relief, you can try a couple of these at-home treatments:

Salt and Baking Soda Mouth Rinses

A common canker sore remedy is rinsing your mouth with a baking soda or saltwater solution. We recommend using one teaspoon of baking soda or salt for every half cup of warm water and gargling for 15 to 30 seconds. Salt helps dry out sores while baking soda can help with relieving inflammation.

Chamomile Tea and Honey

Honey and chamomile are well-known for their antibacterial and anti-inflammation properties. While you can use either of them separately, we recommend drinking them together to get the best of both worlds. This can alleviate canker sore pain and reduce their size and redness. It can also help prevent another infection, especially with an open sore. Once you’re done with your drink, you can then use the chamomile tea bags as a makeshift compress. We recommend doing this three to four times a day.

Aloe Vera

Aloe is a standard solution for reducing pain and soothing inflammation and irritation. When applying it as a topical ointment, make sure to use natural aloe gel rather than the green kind you usually use for sunburns or acne.

Vitamin B Supplements

As vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause canker sores, taking vitamin B supplements can heal and even prevent them. Some studies have shown that taking B-12 can lead to fewer outbreaks and sores and make those that do appear less painful. Some health professionals also believe that several other B vitamins can aid with canker sore recovery.

If you find your mouth ulcer is unusually large, lasts more than a few weeks, or causes other health issues, you will need to come into our Houston dental office. At this point, the sore is a dental emergency in need of professional care.

Preventing Canker Sores

Like cold sores, patients who develop canker sores once can get them again. While we can’t stop them from reappearing 100%, there are some easy things you can do to help prevent them from returning:

Practice excellent dental hygiene. Oral bacteria can play a large role in mouth ulcers’ appearance. Taking care to eliminate as much bacteria as possible will make it harder for them to develop. Plus, you’ll see your number of cavities drop and prevent the first signs of gingivitis from appearing. Besides brushing and flossing your teeth regularly, you should also visit our hygienist for a routine dental cleaning every six months.

Eat the right foods. Foods that are highly acidic, citric, or spicy—lemons, oranges, tomatoes, strawberries, pineapples, etc.—have been linked to causing mouth ulcers. Eating few of these fruits and veggies, as well as other troublesome foods like chocolate and coffee.

Reduce your daily stress. Stress can be a significant trigger for canker sores, even causing more sores to appear when patients already have one. If you know that this is one of your risk factors, try simple activities that you know can lower your stress levels, such as yoga or meditating.

Take zinc lozenges. Zinc helps boost our bodies’ immune systems, allowing us to better fight off bacterial infections and diseases. When the immune system is weak, it can be more challenging for our mouths to keep ulcers from forming.

Keep your mouth safe from injury. Dental trauma isn’t just cracks, chips, and breaks in your teeth. Rubbing, irritation, and cuts from dental appliances such as bracket braces can leave your mouth vulnerable to oral bacteria. Using dental wax to cover up these rough areas keeps your inner cheeks and lips better protected against developing sores.

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