DEFINITION--Painful ulcers that occur in the lining of the mouth. Ulcers are not
cancerous, but may be contagious. They may be confused with herpes infections.
BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Mouth and adjacent areas.
SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Both sexes, but more common in women.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS--
Unknown, but following are the most likely causes:
- Emotional or physical stress, anxiety or premenstrual tension.
- Injury to the mouth lining caused by rough dentures, hot food, toothbrushing or dental
- Irritation from foods, such as chocolate, citrus, acid foods (vinegar, pickles), salted
nuts or potato chips.
- Virus infection.
RISK INCREASES WITH--Recent dental treatment.
HOW TO PREVENT
- Brush teeth at least twice a day and floss regularly to keep the mouth clean and
- Avoid stress if possible (see How to Cope with Stress in Appendix).
- Avoid intimate contact with infected persons.
- Observe if canker sores develop after eating specific foods. Don't eat foods that seem
to trigger attacks.
What To Expect
- Your own observation of symptoms.
- Medical history and physical exam by a doctor (sometimes).
- Laboratory culture of the sores to distinguish from herpes infection or detect secondary
bacterial infections (sometimes).
APPROPRIATE HEALTH CARE
- Doctor's treatment.
POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONS--Dehydration in severe cases where eating and drinking
PROBABLE OUTCOME--Most ulcers heal without scarring in 2 weeks. Recurrent
attacks are common. They vary from a single lesion 2 or 3 times a year to an uninterrupted
succession of multiple lesions.
How To Treat
- Rinse the mouth 3 or more times a day with a salt solution (1/2 teaspoon salt to 8 oz.
- Clean sores frequently with 2% hydrogen peroxide on a cotton applicator.
- If a canker sore is caused by a rough tooth, braces or dentures, consult your dentist.
The sore won't heal until the cause is eliminated.
MEDICATION--Your doctor may prescribe:
- Topical anesthetics to relieve pain.
- Protective dental paste with a steroid derivative, such as Orabase with triamcinolone
acetonide. If applied as soon as the ulcer begins, this prevents pain. Keep medicine
prescribed by your doctor for the first attack. Use it immediately at the sign of a
recurrent attack. The sooner treatment starts, the milder the attack.
DIET--No restrictions, except to avoid foods that aggravate ulcers. Drink as
many fluids and eat as well-balanced a diet as possible while healing. To minimize pain,
sip liquids through straws. Foods that cause the least pain are milk, liquid gelatin,
yogurt, ice cream and custard.
Call Your Doctor If
- Temperature rises to 102F (38.9C) or higher.
- Ulcers don't improve in 10 days, despite treatment.
- Pain is unbearable and isn't relieved by treatment.
- A child with canker sores loses weight.