Prevention & Recovery

How to treat mouth ulcers and canker sores

Author: Canadian Living

Prevention & Recovery

How to treat mouth ulcers and canker sores

Aphthous ulcers, a type of mouth ulcer more commonly known as canker sores, are shallow, painful lesions that appear on the tongue and inside of the cheeks and lips, roof of the mouth and at the base of the gums. It is a common affliction experienced by many people at some point in their lives, most often by people in their early teens up until their forties, and, in particular, by women. The ulcers, which can appear in singular or group form, are white in appearance and often surrounded by a red "halo" and, depending on the location, can cause swelling in the lip. They aren't contagious, but in some cases there is a hereditary link.

Read on to find out how to treat mouth ulcers and canker sores.

The cause
"Nobody really knows what causes them," says Dr. Alan Bobkin, a Toronto-based orthodontist. Simple canker sores most often develop where the inner-mouth tissue has already been damaged, he explains. Anything from biting the inside of your mouth, to irritation from braces or sometimes even overzealous brushing can bring them on. Frequently occurring lesions have also been attributed to factors such as improper nutrition, vitamin deficiencies, a compromised immune system and excessive stress levels. Since very little is proven with regards to the origin of cankers, there are no concrete answers in terms of treatment and prevention, however continued scientific research and time-tested remedies help provide insight on how best to deal with this uncomfortable condition.

How to treat mouth ulcers and canker sores
Home remedies: There's a litany of do-it-yourself cures – ranging from baking soda or saltwater rinses to the application of a black tea bag directly on the sore – that have long been praised for their reliable success rate.

Oils:
Certain herbal oils, such as menthol and clove, can provide temporary relief by creating numbing sensation around the ulcer, and tea tree oil (a natural disinfectant) is often touted as an effective cure for cankers.

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More ways to treat mouth ulcers and canker sores
Vitamins:
A recent study has shown that a nightly dose of Vitamin B12 drastically reduces the frequency, duration and severity of sores in chronic canker sufferers over a period of several months, regardless of an individual test subject's initial B12 blood level.

Over-the-counter: A wide variety of products, including rinses and gels that can numb the pain and accelerate healing, are available at pharmacies and drugstores.

While there is no miracle cure, the aforementioned treatments can help reduce the duration and severity of symptoms. "I usually tell my patients just to rinse with warm salt water. Nothing in particular can be prescribed to make them go away instantly," says Bobkin.

The average sore shouldn't last longer than fourteen days, with the worst of the pain subsiding after the first three or four. Take care to avoid irritants such as spicy and acidic foods, and be careful when brushing your teeth to avoid exacerbating the lesion. If the sore persists longer than two weeks or is more than a centimetre in diameter, seek medical attention.

Prevention
Identify underlying conditions: With frequently recurring aphthous ulcers, the possibility of vitamin deficiencies, malnutrition or a compromised immune system should be discussed with your family doctor. "There are also certain systemic diseases like celiac or Crohn's that can cause canker sores, so if they're recurring you should rule them out, as well," Bobkin says.

Avoid problem foods:
Crunchy or hard food items like potato chips and popcorn can cut the inside of your mouth, which can induce canker sores. Citrus fruits, cinnamon, and coffee have also been identified as triggers. Pinpoint your sensitivities and drastically reduce or eliminate them completely from your diet.

Reduce stress:
If there's a direct correlation between high-stress periods in your life and the appearance of canker sores, explore relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or regular exercise as a preventative measure.

Switch to SLS-free toothpaste: Several studies suggest a link between recurrent canker sores and the use of toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) – a commonly used detergent found in shampoos and soaps – which can increase the sensitivity of the tissue inside the mouth.

Find more great health info on the Health & Wellness Blog.

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