Canker sores are painful areas of ulceration along the delicate inner mucosa of the mouth. The exact causes of these sores are not clearly understood, but they seem to be linked to genetics, oral trauma, and dietary deficiency. Usually, they will go away on their own after a short period of time, but if they are spreading or painful, a medical professional may prescribe topical medication to help reduce the pain and shrink the sores. Canker sores are also sometimes referred to as aphthous ulcers.
A canker sore is not the same thing as a cold sore. Cold sores are associated with the highly contagious herpes virus, and they tend to appear on the lips, around the nose, and on other areas of the face. Canker sores only appear inside the mouth, along the inner lips, lower gumline, inner cheeks, and under the tongue. Typically, they will appear red and irritated, and will sometimes develop a cloudy white covering. They are also not contagious.
Women are more prone to getting canker sores than men, and they usually start to appear in middle childhood. Women in their 20s have the highest incidence, and they usually taper off after that period. For people prone to these sores, avoiding rough foods and sources of oral trauma will help to reduce their incidence, as will consuming more vitamin B12, folic acid, zinc, and iron. They also appear to have a genetic link; if someone in a person's family gets these sores, he or she is more likely to get them as well.
When a canker sore appears, it can be quite painful. Many people treat them at home by taking aspirin to reduce the pain, or applying topical analgesic gels directly to the sore. In addition, people with active sores should avoid eating acidic foods and chocolate, which can aggravate the ulcer. Heavily salted and crunchy foods may also be unpleasant to eat. Some foods, like pineapples and mangoes, also contain enzymes that can be irritating.
If canker sores start spreading, last more than two weeks, or are extremely painful, the person who has them should consult a medical professional. Although they are benign most of the time, these sores can sometimes be an indicator of a more serious medical problem, such as an oral cancer. In addition, a professional can prescribe medications to treat painful mouth ulcers and speed the healing process.