Dental Care

Types of Mouth Sores

All types of mouth sores are a real pain in the... -well, in the mouth! 

If they plague you on a regular basis, console yourself with the knowledge that approximately one-third of the general population is afflicted with some kind of mouth lesion, at some point in time. 

It is true that we can go about our daily activities when we are bothered by a mouth sore, but they can be pretty distracting and downright painful.  Some of them are really unsightly. And sometimes it's difficult to eat or even speak normally. 

The four most common types of mouth sores are canker sores, cold sores, leukoplakia, and candidiasis (also known as thrush). 

Any time your mouth sore lasts longer than a week, have it investigated by your family dentist.  It is important to know that it is not symptomatic of a more serious condition, such as cancer or HIV.

Canker Sores

A canker sore appears on the soft tissues inside your mouth as a whitish area on a reddish bed of skin.  Many people call them ulcers, and the medical term is actually aphthous ulcer

The whitish area will open as the ulcer develops, although it's difficult to see that it's open because it's so light colored.  It is most sore before it opens, but once it does you've reached the worst of the pain and you'll soon be on the mend. 

  • Minor canker sores are less than a half inch in diameter and they heal without scarring.

  • Major canker sores are larger than a half inch with a more variegated shape, they might scar, and they take longer to heal-up to six weeks.

  • Herpetiform cankers are made up tiny little canker sores, but there will be ten or possibly dozens of them clustered together.  They will heal in a week or two.

Nobody really knows what causes these common types of mouth sores, like cancer sores.  Scientists are speculating about the following contributing factors:

  • Trauma to the mouth tissue.

  • Acidic foods such as tomatoes or tomato products, pineapples, and apples often set off an attack.  Some people complain about strawberries, coffee, and even chocolate.

  • A deficiency of vitamin B-12, folic acid, zinc, or iron.

  • Emotional stress.

  • Some women associate them with their periods:  Is that because of being extra emotional at that time or because of hormonal shifts?  Scientists are still investigating.

  • Crohn's disease, which causes digestive distress including colon spasms and ulcerative colitis; Celiac disease, which is associated with sensitivity to gluten, a wheat protein; Behcet's disease, which is a rare inflammatory condition that spreads throughout the body; and HIV/AIDS, an immunodeficiency syndrome, are all associated with canker sores. 

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate is used in many hygiene products, including shampoo and toothpaste, because it boosts foaming action.  Check your brand, and if it is listed on the label (sometimes it just says SLS) make a switch.

  • Cigarette smoking dries out your oral tissues.

  • Sometimes it is just plain old heredity.

Treatment of these types of mouth sores :  You can expect your canker sore to heal after seven to ten days.  Most people find relief using topical ointments that are available without prescription, and even taking an ibuprofen can help. 

It is also helpful to rinse with an anti microbial mouthwash -SLS-free, of course.  See your doctor if your sores get really large of if they recur repeatedly.

Cold Sores

Unlike canker sores, which form inside the mouth, these types of mouth sores, cold sores make their ugly presence known on your lips, under the nose, or on the chin.  And also unlike canker sores, scientists have pinned down their cause -the herpes I simplex virus- and, yes, they are extremely contagious! 

Most people are infected initially when they are children, and when they wonder in later years why they are prone to these painful, unsightly things they fail to remember the first time they ever got one.  It is true, however, that once someone is infected the virus will remain in his body for life. 

Cold sores actually can be caused by the herpes I or the herpes II virus, although most of them are the first type.  The two viruses are very similar and almost indistinguishable under a microscope.  The big differences between them are that herpes I flare-ups occur more often, and herpes II causes more pain. 

Even though cold sores are caused by a virus, there are still certain provocative conditions: 

  • Stress, stress, and stress. 

  • Extremes of heat and cold, especially heat. 

  • People who are fatigued get them, as do people who are recovering from a cold or flu that has drained them.  Many people get them after a fever.

  • Use of medications that contain steroids, including certain asthma products.

  • Exposure to sunlight, including lip-baking heat. 

  • Excessive alcohol consumption.

Treatment of these types of mouth sores:  It's positive to know that the older you get, the less likely you are to have cold sores.  Most people know when a cold sore is about to break out, because they have a tingling, itching, or painful sensitivity at the site. 

If you feel this sensation or if you experience an attack, try one of these remedies:

  • There are over-the-counter medications, such as Abreva, that help to dry up cold sores and alleviate the pain.

  • Prescription medications include Famvir, Zovirax, and Valtrex.  See your physician or dentist for this kind of help. 

  • With some products, you apply a protective seal over the cold sore.

You can avoid sunlight, keep your skin well moisturized, drink lots of water, and take nutritional supplements. Some people who are prone to them practice deep breathing on a regular basis. 

If you develop a cold sore it will just have to run its course -from two to twelve days.  But remember, if any of these types of mouth sores recur or last overly long, see your doctor. 


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