Canker Sores: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

canker sore

Sores in the mouth which are called Canker Sores are common in many people. Doctors or dentists often term it as Aphthous Ulcers or Aphthous Stomatitis.

These can appear on the soft palate, on your mouth, lips, or on the roof of your mouth. In most of the cases, these are not painful and non-contagious.

Aphthous Stomatitis, however, in some cases can occur frequently due to abnormal response of your immunity system to the bacteria that is present in your mouth.

These sores can cause pain but they can heal on their own. If you experience these canker sores and want to learn more about them, this article details the causes, symptoms, and treatment of canker sores.

What are Canker Sores?

Canker sores are small ulcers inside the mouth that cause pain.  These can happen on the lips and the inside lining of lips and cheek. They are generally white or yellow in color with red-bordered inflamed soft tissue.

Usually, a single ulcer shows on the inner lining of the mouth but at times they can appear in clusters.

These sores cause pain and a tingling sensation in your mouth. It causes more pain if you eat spicy, tangy, or acidic food causing difficulty in eating.

You experience a small red bump in your mouth before it bursts to reveal a sore. It causes the area around the sore to be painful for few weeks.

Canker sores are not contagious and so they cannot spread with kissing or sharing food. But they should not be mistaken with cold sores as they are contagious and can spread with these activities.


canker sores in mouth

Who Can Get Canker Sores?

Canker sores are quite common and can happen to anyone at any time in their life. Generally, they start showing up between the ages of 10 and 20 and are also most common during this stage of life. You might have seen kids also experiencing canker sores which cause them difficulty in eating.

These can also happen on the basis of genetics. If your family members experience them, chances are that you might get them too.

Women are twice as likely to get canker sore as hormonal imbalance is considered a cause of these sores. Women experience these hormonal imbalances more during menstruation and it may cause them to have these sores more frequently.

Types of Canker Sores

Following are the types of canker sores:

  1. Minor sores are the most common type of canker sores. They are the size of 3 to 10 mm and last up to 2 weeks.
  2. Major sores are ones that are larger in size than 10 mm. They have irregular shapes. Sores that take longer to heal i.e. a few weeks to months. They can also leave scars after healing
  3. Herpetiform sores appear in large groups or sores but are small in size like 2 to 3 mm. They can be in large numbers.


Painful Canker SoresCauses

Canker sores can be quite a common occurrence for some people. They tend to run in the family as well so if your family members have them, there are chances that you will get them too.

They are caused by other reasons as well that are listed as follows:

  • Stress—certain stressful events of your life can make canker sores appear.
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiency in B3, B9, B12, zinc, iron, calcium can cause sores.
  • Mouth injuries like a bite can cause canker sores to appear.
  • Viral infection
  • Immune system problem
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate found in toothpaste and mouth rinse can also cause sores.
  • Food allergies
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Hormonal fluctuation


Some of the symptoms of canker sores include:

  • Small white or yellow sore
  • Pain around the area with the sore
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes

The last two symptoms are those symptoms that appear sometimes along with sores. They might not appear all the time.



These sores are quite common, but they should not be left to their own devices. If complicated, they can cause excruciating pain and make eating difficult for you.

A canker sore is usually diagnosed by a doctor by examining the sore. The shape and color can tell if they are canker sores. If the situation is severe with many sores appearing, the doctor might ask for a blood test or biopsy of the area to determine the cause and start the treatment.

DiagnosisThis severe breakout could be because of vitamin or mineral deficiency, virus, hormonal disorder, etc. Therefore, the tests are necessary to determine the cause in case of severity of canker sores.

Your doctor or dentist will also take your medical history in order to determine if there is an underlying medical condition of these sores.

Also, if you get these sores frequently, you should see your doctor or dentist for medical advice.

Cancerous Lesions and Canker Sores

Oral cancer also has symptoms where sores like canker sores may appear and cause pain. There are ways to find out if the sores in your mouth are cancerous or are canker sores.

Cancerous sores have several other symptoms as well like bleeding from the mouth and gums, loose teeth, neck swelling, and earaches.

Canker sores on the other hand can be treated on their own. They can disappear in one to three weeks and are only painful from a week to 10 days.

In case your sores do not heal, and you experience the above-mentioned symptoms, see your doctor or dentist to find out the cause.

Canker Sores and Cold Sores

Cold sores and canker sores are different in the way that cold sores appear outside of your mouth. They are generally caused by a virus that enters inside your body.

Causes of Canker SoresUnlike canker sores, it appears as blisters first. When it pops, it becomes sore and may look like a canker sore at that stage. Otherwise, both sores are of very different kinds.


If canker sores do not go away after a few weeks, they can lead to other problems like fever, fatigue pain, multiplying and spreading outside of the mouth.

If these sores persist and start to get worse, see your doctor immediately. Your doctor can conduct tests to understand the problem. These sores coupled with bacterial infections can cause more harm and make them more painful.

Home Remedies

Even though these sores can disappear on their own in time, it does not mean that their presence does not cause any difficulty. The pain can make it difficult to eat and speak sometimes.

Certain home remedies can be applied to ease the pain speed up the healing process. Applying ice to the sore helps with the pain.

Making a mouthwash or mouth rinse with warm water and baking soda can relieve pain and speed up healing. Saltwater rinse can also help. Mouthwashes made with apple cider vinegar or sage tea can also help with treatment.

Home Remedies for Cenker SoresSimilarly applying milk of magnesia can also be effective. Topical products for sores like medicated creams and gels can be used to help relieve pain. These products are available over the counter and you don’t need a prescription for these gels.

Yogurt is considered a means to prevent and treat sores. Honey is also known for its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities which can help with canker sores.

Consuming vitamin B supplements and zinc lozenges can also help if these canker sores are due to mineral or vitamin deficiency.

How Can You Help Children with Canker Sores?

As mentioned before, it can also happen in the kids and pain can be a lot for them. They can also experience trouble eating food.

In such cases, guide your child to avoid eating certain foods that might cause irritation, increasing pain. Tell them to avoid spicy food, hard food like nuts, crisps, etc.

Tell them to keep their teeth clean with brushing and use mouthwashes. Make sure that they do not be hard while brushing.

When Should You See A Doctor

These sores are not much of a problem as they heal on their own after one or two weeks. The pain subsides in a few days. If the pain does not subside or the sores keep appearing frequently, it is a sign that you should go see a doctor.

You should see a doctor or dentist in case of the following symptoms:

  • Extreme pain
  • Difficulty eating and drinking
  • The size of sores is larger than normal
  • A cluster of sores appear
  • Sores do not heal
  • Sores spreading outside of your mouth
  • New ones appearing before old ones heal
  • Other symptoms like fever and fatigue


Canker sores heal on their own. The least you can do is get over-the-counter pain killers (like ibuprofen, acetaminophen) or topical medicine (gel, creams etc.) to relieve pain. In addition to treating these sores, you can adopt a healthy lifestyle to help to heal processes as well as preventing these canker sores from happening.

Brushing your teeth daily prevents any bacterial infection in the mouth. Use toothpaste and mouthwash without SLS as it is known to cause sores. Avoiding spicy foods can help to heal and prevent painful sensations on the sores. Consuming milk and yogurt can help reduce pain. Mouthwashes can also help reduce pain.

In order to apply for medicines, dry the area first. Use a cotton swab to apply the medicine or gel to the sore. Keep the medicine for at least half an hour and do not rinse your mouth.


As we saw, canker sores are not a severe problem. They cause pain but they also heal on their own in most cases. Some cases can cause complications but with expert medical care. It also means that you can adopt healthy habits to avoid getting these sores.

In case you get these sores, you can use normal painkillers and even home remedies to relieve yourself of pain and live your life normally.

Add Comment

Leave a Reply