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When it comes to ulcers, most people’s minds immediately go to stomach ulcers. However, unfortunately, the condition can also occur in your mouth and can be as uncomfortable as an ulcer anywhere else. A canker sore is a widely known open mouth ulcer that often occurs inside your mouth around cheeks or lips.

If you’re wondering what it looks like, it’s usually a yellow or white sore surrounded by inflamed tissue. On the positive side, canker sores aren’t contagious and don’t take longer than a week or two to heal. The pain usually goes away even earlier. However, complete healing and recovery may take up to six weeks.

What are some canker sore symptoms?

Some of the most common canker sore symptoms include:

  • Painful feeling in your mouth
  • A red area in your mouth
  • A tingling sensation
  • A small, white or yellow ulcer

There may also be additional symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • A general feeling of being unwell
  • Swollen lymph nodes

What causes canker sores?

Just like many other conditions, canker sores may also develop if there’s a family history. Other major causes include:

  • Stress
  • Viral infection
  • Food allergy
  • Hormonal fluctuation
  • Mouth injury
  • Problems with the immune system
  • Mineral or vitamin deficiency
  • Menstrual cycle

However, it’s possible not to be able to determine the cause of canker sores in some cases.

How is a canker sore diagnosed?

symptom of canker soreYour healthcare professional may conduct a thorough examination of your mouth before establishing whether you have canker sores or not. In some cases, doctors may also recommend getting certain blood tests or a biopsy done if the breakout is severe or if they suspect is the following:

  • A hormonal disorder
  • A virus
  • A form of deficiency, etc.

In rare cases, it’s also possible for a cancerous lesion to appear as a sore, but it’s unlikely to treat it without treatment. On the negative side, some oral cancer symptoms are quite similar to those of canker sores, such as a swollen neck and painful ulcers. However, other symptoms set it apart from a canker sore such as:

  • Earaches
  • Trouble eating or swallowing
  • Teeth feeling loose
  • Bleeding from your gums or mouth

It’s important to see a doctor right away if there’s the presence of any of the stated symptoms above and rule oral cancer out once and for all.

Is there a way to prevent canker sores?

Since there isn’t a single known cause of canker sores, it’s hard to determine what course of action to take to prevent them entirely. However, it is possible to prevent their recurrence by avoiding anything that may have triggered it previously, such as acidic, spicy, or salty foods. If your canker sore were previously caused by stress, try to incorporate deep breathing, meditation, and other calming techniques you may know of.

Stating the obvious, but keep your oral health in check at all times. Practicing good oral hygiene habits and using the right products to keep your gums and teeth healthy is one of the best ways to ensure their longevity and protection. If you suspect having mineral or vitamin deficiencies, speak to your doctor about prescribing supplements or help you create a good diet plan if needed.

How is a canker sore different from a cold sore?

While both conditions are similar in certain aspects, cold sores tend to appear outside your mouth, unlike canker sores that develop inside your mouth. Cold sores are also likely to appear as blisters first, unlike canker sores that appear inflamed first. The former usually becomes sore after your blister pops.

Similar to canker sores, cold sores can also be a result of stress. However, the primary source of this condition is the herpes simplex virus that travels within your body and can result from exhaustion or sunburn.

How is it treated?

Minor canker sores don’t usually require treatment as they heal within a week or two. However, larger and more persistent ones may need some form of care; and thankfully, there are many treatment options available. Here are some, ranging from the most basic ones to those that require more professional intervention.

Rinse your mouth

For starters, your healthcare professional may prescribe something with dexamethasone, which is a steroid, to rinse your mouth. A good mouth rinse can also help you reduce inflammation and pain.

Other over-the-counter products

There are certain products that may speed the healing process and relieve your pain, such as those containing hydrogen peroxide, fluocinonide, and benzocaine. However, even the ones without any active ingredients can help, based on your professional’s recommendation.


Some professionals may recommend oral medications in case your sores aren’t getting better with any other intervention. Some of the medications include those used to treat intestinal ulcers. On the other hand, some medications, such as oral steroids, are only used as a last resort when no other treatment has been successful in healing severe canker sores.

When should you see a doctor?

While minor sores are nothing to worry about and often vanish on their own, some cases may require you to consult a professional. If you think your sores have outstayed their welcome and are unusually large, don’t delay seeking medical advice. Sometimes they start out slow and spread to the entire mouth, causing immense discomfort while performing any oral functions.

On the other hand, if your sores have lasted for more than three weeks, it may be a cause of concern because they can cause a lot of pain despite your attempts to avoid any triggers. If you think home remedies and over-the-counter medicines aren’t working effectively anymore, it may be time to see a doctor and get to the core of the problem.

In the end, canker sores are not a serious condition, but they can cause immense pain and disrupt your ability to perform daily tasks. Therefore, the best way to prevent their onset is to avoid certain foods and keep your stress levels healthy.