Canker Sores: What Are They And How Can You Keep Them At Bay?

If you suffer from painful sores in your mouth, you may wonder what they are and if they're contagious. Canker sores, or aphthous ulcers, are mouth sores that show up almost anywhere inside the mouth, including beneath your tongue and on your inner cheeks and lips. Some people even develop aphthous ulcers in the back of the throat. The sores may be painful enough to keep you from eating and speaking. Here are things to know about canker sores, how they develop and what you may do to stop or reduce their occurrences.

What Are Canker Sores and What Do They Look Like?

Canker sores are shallow ulcers that can be oval or round in shape and typically have red borders, or edges. The centers of canker sores vary in colors from white to yellow. Aphthous ulcers generally develop in three stages. During the first stage, you may experience some discomfort in the outbreak site, such as burning and tingling. However, you won't see the actual sores until the second stage.

During the second stage, the sores begin to appear as reddened, raised areas on the mucous membranes, or soft tissues, of the mouth. The sores may also form thin membranes over their surfaces that eventually break open, or ulcerate. The ulceration leads to the third stage, which may be the most painful of the three stages, according to University Health Services. In any case, canker sores can range in severity from mild to severe. 

Mild cases of canker sores may last anywhere from one to two weeks and usually go away without scarring the soft tissues. Major cases of aphthous ulcers may last as long as six weeks and can leave behind scars on the soft tissues. A few older individuals may develop severe cases of canker sores that may resemble the herpes simplex virus, or HSV-1

However, HSV-1 doesn't cause canker sores in any form. HSV-1 is a highly contagious virus that causes fluid-filled blisters on the outside and inside of the mouth, as well as on the face and nose. Canker sores only develop on the interior soft tissues of the mouth and aren't contagious. In addition, certain factors unrelated to the herpes virus may contribute to your canker sore outbreaks.

What Causes Canker Sores and How Do You Keep Them at Bay?

Although it's uncertain as to why canker sores develop, certain factors, such as eating acidic foods that irritate the soft tissues of the mouth, having a poor immune system or experiencing stress, may be possible causes for the ulcers. Not having sufficient nutrients, such as cobalamin and other B vitamins, in the body may be other possible reasons for your canker sore outbreaks. For instance, vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that helps folic acid strengthen your immune system and blood cells. A lack of healthy blood cells may contribute to the formation of canker sores, which may prevent the body's tissues from fighting off infection or healing.

Canker sores may also show up if you injure your gums, tongue or inner cheeks. For example, a sore may form on your tongue if you accidentally bite it when you eat or brush it too hard during oral care. It's possible for you to develop canker sores in the throat if you eat or drink something hot enough to burn the back of your throat.

It's important to strengthen your immune system by eating foods high in the B vitamins each day, such as kale, spinach and other leafy green vegetables. Waiting until your foods and liquids cool down before you consume them is ideal. Or, you can place ice cubes in your hot foods and liquids to decrease their temperatures.

Changing your toothbrush to one with soft bristles may also help prevent or reduce your canker sore outbreaks. If necessary, see a dentist and have your mouth examined for cuts and other injuries that may lead to canker sores. A dentist may also go over your health and dental history to find any other possible factors that make you susceptible to canker sores.

Knowing more about your canker sores may help you keep them at bay. For more information about the sores, contact a dental provider today, such as those at Dental Associates PC