Facebook Pixel

Canker Sores: Definitions, Causes and Treatments

By HERWriter
Rate This

Statistics show that at least 20 percent of the population has canker sores at any given time. Other statistics indicate that women and teens are more prone to cankers than men, and that susceptibility to canker sores can be genetic and shared among family members.

What are canker sores?

Canker sores are known in the medical community as “aphthous ulcers” and they come in three classifications.

1) Minor – These make up 80 percent of reported cases of canker sores in the general population. They are usually 1-10mm in diameter and clear up within 7-10 days.

2) Major – These make up 10 percent of reported cases. These cankers sores are greater than 10mm and take between 10-30 days to resolve. There may be some scarring.

3) Herpetiform – About 10 percent of reported cases are clusters of sores with each sore less than 3mm in diameter

Cankers develop on moveable parts of the mouth – tongue, cheeks, lips, and at the base of the gums. They start out as small, red “pimples” that burst within a day. Once ruptured a thin white or yellow membrane will cover the sores. The vast majority of sores will heal within two weeks without requiring treatment and without scarring.

What causes canker sores?

No one is entirely sure what causes them in everyone, but here are some theories.

So far as researchers have been able to determine, canker sores do not appear to be caused by viruses or bacteria, although studies show that some people may develop them as an allergic reaction to a bacterium in the mouth.

They may also be the result of a faulty immune system where the body defends itself against and destroys normal mouth cells.

Studies in Britain have found that 20 per cent of occurrences happen where there are deficiencies in vitamin B12, folic acid and iron. American studies haven’t shown this connection, but it may be because of different criteria for the study subjects.

Other studies have shown a link between Vitamin C deficiency and the development of canker sores.

Some patients experience them as a gastrointestinal reaction to certain cereals. Stress, trauma or injury to the mouth due to braces, sharp objects/food, hard toothbrushes, smoking and the presence of dentures can also result in the appearance of canker sores.

It has also been suggested that those who suffer from auto-immune disorders, such as Lupus and Crohn’s Disease, may develop canker sores as part of their condition which causes swelling or inflammation of tissues.

There were some theories about the possibility of a link between toothpastes that contain sodium lauryl sulphate (this is the ingredient that makes bubbles in most personal cleansing products: shampoo, bubble baths and shaving cream), but results of studies conducted were inconsistent.

How can you treat canker sores?

Most canker sores do not require treatment to help them clear up or heal – they usually do this on their own. But for those who don’t want to wait the 7-10 days, there are several home remedies that have been shown to be effective in addressing the discomfort.

Saltwater and baking soda rinses

- Mix 1 tsp of salt into 1 cup of warm water (1/2 tsp of backing soda may also be added)
- Swish for 30 seconds then spit


- Create a paste with the salt, baking soda and warm water and cover the area with the mixture

Repeat as required

Salt and baking soda relieve pain and help the mouth heal quickly by reducing alkalinity and bacteria in the mouth.

Hydrogen Peroxide Rinses

- Mix 1 part hydrogen peroxide with 1 part water
- Dab the solution on to the site with a cotton swab

Milk of Magnesia

Dab milk of magnesia on the site to reduce the pain and aid in healing. Particularly after hydrogen peroxide rinses.

Over-the-Counter Gels and Rinses

Orajel or Anbesol contain lidocaine and reduce pain and swelling. These are most commonly used when babies teethe, but they work for adults, too.

When choosing an oral rinse, choose one with low alcohol and sugar content. The idea behind using a rinse to deal with canker sores (and general mouth cleanliness) is to lower the alkaline level in the mouth which lowers the amount of bacteria in the mouth, which can interfere with speed of healing. Studies have shown that rinses with higher alcohol and sugar content actually increase the alkalinity of the mouth and therefore can encourage the development of bacteria – which also causes bad breath.

Diphenhydramine suspension liquid (eg: Benadryl) is also effective. Just rinse, don’t swallow.

As with any over-the-counter product, you must follow the directions for the treatment to be administered properly and to be effective.

These remedies work fine to relieve symptoms and aid healing for 80 percent of canker cases. For the other 20 per cent, prescriptions for steroids and tetracycline rinses may be necessary and recommended by your family physician or dentist. If the cankers are the result of a fungal infection (eg: yeast infection), anti-fungal medication may also be an option.

Canker sores are very common and usually don’t require any treatment. These above measures are only offered as options to soothe the discomfort and ensure that the area heals well. If you believe you are suffering from either type 2 or type 3, consult your family doctor or dentist.

Sources: www.medicinenet.com; www.about.com

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Canker Sores

Get Email Updates

Related Topics

Canker Sores Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!