Canker sores, also known as aphthous ulcers or aphthous stomatitis, are small lesions (sores) that happen inside of the mouth. The exact reason is unknown but they are not contagious. Roughly 20 percent of people will develop canker sores at some time in their life, and the condition appears to run in families.
Canker sores appear inside of the mouth as round or oval sores typically with a red border and yellow, gray, or white center. Canker sores typically develop:
- The inside of the cheek and lip
- On the gum tissue
- On the top surface of the tongue and the tip of the tongue
- Underneath the tongue, on the floor of the mouth
Types of Canker Sores
Not all canker sores are alike. Canker sores may be classified as:
Minor: Although painful, minor canker sores are often fully healed within two weeks after onset. The size of a minor canker sore varies but typically stays under 1/3 inch to 1/2 inch. Minor canker sores may also be referred to as “simple” canker sores.
Major: Canker sores that appear larger than 1/3 inch to 1/2 inch, generally last longer than two weeks and appear to have irregular, oddly-shaped margins. Rarely, this type of canker sore may leave behind a scar.
Herpetiform Canker Sores: As a cluster of several (often dozens) of tiny lesions that appear to form one larger sore, herpetiform canker sores may last from one week to one month.
While we don’t know exactly what reason canker sores, several risk factors have been identified. Any form of trauma to the mouth, from sports injuries, to eating hot food, and even some ingredients in toothpaste may result in canker sores. Canker sores are also more common in people with certain vitamin deficiencies or who are immunosuppressed.
Canker Sores Treatment Options
Canker sores do not necessarily require to be treated, and even if they do, they may respond to simple at-home remedies such as a saltwater and sodium bicarbonate solution. When severe, prescription medications may be required.
One of the best ways to avoid canker sores is to treat the underlying reason. Improperly fitting dentures or broken teeth should be repaired. If it is hot or spicy food or even gluten in food if you have celiac disease, making dietary changes may help. Even stress management techniques may be of some benefit as stress appears to trigger canker sores for some people.