Canker sores are shallow, painful sores in the mouth. They are usually red or may sometimes have a white coating over them. You might get them on the inside of your lips, the insides of your cheeks, the base of your gums or under your tongue. Canker sores are different from fever blisters, which usually are on the outside of your lips or the corners of your mouth. Canker sores are also called aphthous ulcers.
What are canker sores?
Canker sores are the most common type of oral lesion, affecting about 20% of people. Women get canker sores more often than men. Canker sore susceptibility may be inherited, and the condition can run in families.
Canker sores are not the same as cold sores (fever blisters), which are an infection caused by the herpes virus and are contagious. Canker sores are not contagious and are categorized into three types:
- Minor sores measure from 3 to 10 millimeters (mm) and are the most common type of canker sore, affecting 80% to 85% of patients. Lesions last 10 to 14 days and heal without scarring.
- Major sores are larger and deeper then minor sores, have an irregular border and a diameter of greater than 10 mm. These account for 10% of all canker sores. Major canker sores may take weeks to months to heal and can leave a scar after healing.
- Herpetiform sores are characterized by large groups of multiple sores. These are small ulcers (2-3 mm) but there may be as many as 100 ulcers present at the same time. Herpetiform aphthae account for 10% of all canker sores. They tend to heal without scarring.
Canker sores facts
- Canker sores are small, painful ulcers on the inside of the mouth, lips, or throat.
- Symptoms of canker sores include small, painful, crater-like ulcers.
- To help relieve pain and speed healing, treatments and remedies for canker sores include topical medications, mouthwashes, and over-the-counter pain medications.
- See a doctor if canker sores are accompanied by fever, last more than three weeks, or the affected individual has difficulty swallowing.
- Multiple factors may cause canker sores, including injury to the mouth, acidic or spicy foods, vitamin deficiencies, hormones, stress, or autoimmune disorders.
- Most canker sores require no treatment and resolve on their own.
- Canker sores are not the same thing as fever blisters (cold sores).
- People with frequent canker sores should see their doctor to get tested for possible underlying medical conditions.
How are canker sores treated?
There is no cure for canker sores, but they usually go away on their own in 7 to 10 days. For pain relief, you can try taking ibuprofen (two brand names: Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol). A number of over-the-counter medicines are available to relieve canker sore pain or to protect the sores from becoming irritated when you eat, drink or brush your teeth. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if one of these products might be right for you.