All About Mouth Sores and Ulcers

Do you get sores or ulcers in your mouth? When you go to the dentist, do you always get a fever blister? Canker sores and fever blisters affect a lot of people in the United States.

What’s a canker sore?

A canker sore and an aphthous ulcer are the same thing. These painful sores happen inside the mouth, usually on the tissue that lines the inside of the cheeks and lips, on the tongue, or even at the back of the throat. Aphthous ulcers hurt a lot and can be put into three different groups.

Minor Aphthous Ulcers

This is the most common kind of canker sore or aphthous ulcer. Minor aphthous ulcers are round or oval, have a diameter of about 6 mm, and last between 7 and 10 days.

Major Aphthous Ulcers

These happen less often and hurt a lot. Major aphthous ulcers are much bigger and last much longer. They can be over a centimeter in diameter (they can last up to six weeks).

Herpetiform Aphthous Ulcers

The last type of aphthous ulcers is called “herpes ulcers.” This is not because they are caused by the herpes virus, but because they look like the sores that the virus makes. Herpetiform aphthous ulcers are groups of several sores that are close together.

Some things are the same for all aphthous ulcers. All of them look yellowish to white and are round or oval in shape. The ulcer is surrounded by irritated tissue, which makes the ulcer look like it has a red ring around it. Most of the time, they hurt a lot.

Why do people get canker sores?

No one knows for sure what causes aphthous ulcers or canker sores. They often happen when the tissue is hurt, like when you bite your lip or tongue. They can happen after surgery or other injuries to the inside of the mouth. When people are worried or stressed, they often get canker sores.

How do you treat canker sores?

Since no one knows what causes them, there is no way to stop them. Any treatment works to make the painful sores feel better. Most people just “wait it out” because minor aphthous ulcers don’t last very long. Because they last longer, major aphthous ulcers need to be checked out by a dentist and treated.

Your dentist can help ease your pain in many ways. The first is to give you a pain-relieving mouthwash or steroid ointment to put on the affected area. If you get ulcers often, you should keep these prescriptions in your refrigerator so you always have them on hand.

A laser treatment is another way to treat aphthous ulcers and make them less painful. When some kinds of laser energy are used on ulcerated or inflamed tissues, they heal more quickly.

What’s a Fever Blister?

The Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 causes both fever blisters and cold sores, which are sores in the mouth. This is NOT the same virus that causes genital herpes, which is spread through sexual contact. HSV-1 is a different strain of the herpes virus that affects the mouth most of the time.

On the outside of the lip, fever blisters or cold sores happen often. People who get cold sores know that their skin will tingle before a cold sore appears. If you catch the sore at this early stage, you can easily treat it with anti-viral pills or ointments to make it go away faster.

Oral herpes sores can also happen inside the mouth, usually on the roof of the mouth. Herpetic ulcers are different from aphthous ulcers because they always come in groups and only affect gum tissue that sits on top of the bone. They don’t grow on the inside of the lips, cheeks, or tongue.

Mouth sores caused by herpes start out as a small group of fluid-filled bumps that soon burst and turn into painful ulcers. In really bad cases, the ulcers can be so close to each other that they look like one big ulcer.

How Do You Treat Herpes Sores in the Mouth?

If you go to the dentist early enough, he or she can give you an antiviral pill or ointment to put on the sore. You can still take these medicines after the fever blister has been there for a while, but they won’t do much since their main benefit is to make the sore go away faster.

What Makes Aphthous Ulcers Different from Oral Herpes?

There are differences in how to treat these two types of sores, and your dentist can tell with a quick oral exam or even just a photo of the sore which one you have. The dentist will figure out what’s wrong and give you the right treatment to make it go away faster and stop hurting. If you buy over-the-counter creams for cold sores, make sure to read and follow the directions very carefully.

How Can You Take Care of the Sores in Your Mouth at Home?

If you want to let your mouth sore heal on its own, here are some ways to make it less painful while you wait.

  • Avoid foods and drinks that are hot, spicy, or acidic. This includes alcohol, coffee, soda, and sparkling water.
  • For mouth sores, use an over-the-counter mouthwash like Colgate’s Peroxyl.
  • Switch to gentle products like Biotene to clean your teeth. Most toothpaste and mouth rinses contain sodium lauryl sulfate and alcohol, which will irritate any mouth sores.
  • Keep a small piece of ice on the ulcer for a few minutes at a time. For a short time, the cold will make the sore feel better and numb it.

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