If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
What are canker sores?
Canker sores are small, thin sores in the mouth. You might get them on the inside of your lips, the insides of your cheeks, the base of your gums or under your tongue. Canker sores are different from fever blisters, which usually are on the outside of your lips or the corners of your mouth. Canker sores are also called aphthous ulcers.
Canker sores are red and often have a white coating over them. You may have discomfort or pain from the sore.
Anyone can get canker sores, but women and people in their teens and 20s get them more often. Canker sores may run in families, but they aren’t contagious. Healthcare providers don’t know exactly what causes canker sores. Mouth injuries, stress, poor nutrition, food allergies and menstrual periods are some of the things that may increase your chances of getting a canker sore.
Can canker sores be prevented or avoided?
You cannot prevent or avoid canker sores, since the cause is unknown. However, you may be able to reduce mouth irritation by avoiding things like chewing gum, and hard, crunchy or spicy foods. Brushing your teeth with a soft toothbrush after meals and flossing every day will keep your mouth free of food that might trigger a canker sore.
How are canker sores treated?
The main goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms until the canker sores go away on their own. Pain medicine can help relieve discomfort and possible swelling of the sore. There are some over-the-counter medicines specific to canker sores. Most of these contain a type of numbing agent to relieve pain. They also can protect the sores from irritation caused by eating, drinking, and brushing your teeth. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if one of these products might be right for you.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe a topical medicine or special mouthwash to help. The medicine goes directly on your canker sores. Dry the sore first using a cotton swab. Then, use a second swab to apply the medicine. You may need to pull out your lip or open your mouth wide to apply. Keep the sore isolated and untouched for several minutes. This allows the medicine to adhere to the sore. Do not eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes. Use the special mouthwash the same as you would a normal mouthwash. Swish it around in your mouth, especially around the sores, for a few minutes. Then, spit it out or swallow it, based on the instructions. Do not use a mouthwash that contains alcohol. It can further irritate the sores
Living with canker sores
There is no cure for canker sores. They usually go away on their own in 7 to 10 days. Treatment can help speed this up and/or relieve symptoms. Contact your healthcare provider if you get frequent, painful canker sores.