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How Do You Treat a Canker Sore?

by Dr. Sharon Orrange on March 9, 2016 at 8:10 am

Who knew such a small sore could be so painful? Aphthous ulcers (aka canker sores) are painful shallow small round or oval ulcers in the mouth—and if you’ve ever one, you may have some questions.

  • Are canker sores a sign of something bad? The majority of the time, no. But people with celiac disease, IBS (inflammatory bowel disease—Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis) may get canker sores that keep coming back.
  • Why do they happen? We don’t really know. One theory is that some unknown trigger sends immune cells—T cells and inflammatory cytokines—to the area, resulting in ulcers.
  • What are some things known to contribute to canker sores? Trauma, hormone levels, stress, and some vitamin deficiencies (specifically vitamin B12). People with a low white blood cell count after receiving chemotherapy are also at risk for canker sores.
  • Will it go away if I do nothing? Yes. Most small canker sores will heal within 10 to 14 days.
  • How can I treat a canker sore? There are prescription pastes and gels that may help you heal faster, so touch base with your doctor to get one to keep one on hand. The most common topical medications are triamcinolone acetonide 0.1% paste or fluocinonide gel, and they can help with the pain. Over the counter meds Orabase and Anbesol (both topical benzocaine) also help relieve pain by numbing the area with the sore.
  • What makes them worse? Here is an interesting fact: sodium lauryl sulfate, a chemical found in toothpaste, may prolong canker sore healing time.

Dr O.

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