What are canker sores? – La Jolla dentist

What are canker sores? – La Jolla dentist

Many people experience sores in the mouth from time to time. The medical term for these is aphthous ulcers, though they’re commonly called canker sores. Although they usually aren’t a serious threat to health, they can be a nuisance. As a premier La Jolla dentist, we frequently get questions about canker sores.

What do canker sores look like?

Canker sores are small ulcers inside of the mouth. The sore itself is usually round, and is gray or whitish in color. This area is surrounded by a red base. The canker sore is usually painful. In some cases, there may also be a tingling or burning sensation, which can begin before the sore itself appears.

A canker sore generally lasts about a week. Outbreaks tend to occur about three to four times per year. No treatment is necessary, because canker sores will go away on their own. However, some people prefer to use treatment to make them more comfortable and to speed the healing of the canker sore. There are over-the-counter topical medications available, which may contain numbing medications such as benzocaine or antimicrobial agents such as hydrogen peroxide. Some people also find that rinsing the mouth with saltwater increases their comfort.

There are also prescription treatments available, though these are usually only used if there are several canker sores present or if a canker sore is particularly severe. If your canker sore doesn’t go away within two weeks, or if many canker sores form, then you should see your La Jolla dentist or your doctor to rule out an underlying medical condition and to seek appropriate treatment.

What causes canker sores?

Scientists still haven’t determined the causes of all canker sores. Stress makes the appearance of canker sores far more likely. (As a premier La Jolla dentist with many patients who are students, we see the effects of stress.) Tissue injury is another common cause of canker sores. For example, a person may accidentally bite the inside of the cheek while chewing, and then a canker sore may develop at this site. Certain foods, especially acidic fruits like citrus, may also lead to canker sores.

Orthodontic appliances (such as the brackets of braces) can also cause canker sores, as can other dental appliances (such as dentures) that are poorly fitted. If you have a dental or orthodontic appliance, and you tend to get canker sores, you should let your dentist know. He or she can adjust your appliance to decrease the irritation it causes.

Are canker sores the same as cold sores?

Although both canker sores and cold sores are common, they’re actually not the same thing. Cold sores are caused by a virus known as the herpes simplex virus, or HSV. This virus is very common, with some studies showing that up to 90% of adults in the U.S. will become infected with HSV in their lifetimes. Once HSV has been acquired, it can persist in the body for life, and no medication can completely eradicate it. The virus may later reactivate and cause new outbreaks of sores to appear.

In general, cold sores will appear at the edges of the lips, while canker sores will appear inside of the mouth. However, cold sores can also appear inside of the mouth. In addition, cold sores tend to appear in small groups, while canker sores usually occur singly.

Because canker sores are not contagious while cold sores are highly contagious, it’s important to be aware of which type of sore you have. If you aren’t sure whether your oral sore is a cold sore or a canker sore, visit your La Jolla dentist or your doctor for a professional evaluation.

La Jolla Center for Advanced Dentistry
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