A canker sore is a small sore on the roof of your mouth.
These sores are caused by a common fungal infection. You can get canker sore from eating sugary, acidic foods, and drinking alcohol.
The sores are often very itchy, painful, and uncomfortable. But these sores usually go away on their own without treatment.
What are the symptoms?
One of the most common symptoms of a canker sore is pain. This can be dull or sharp. In most cases, the pain will go away on its own, but you may need medication or other treatments.
You may also have some of the following symptoms:
- White patches
The symptoms listed below are also symptoms of a canker sore, but they’re not as common.
- Pain in your gums
- A white or yellow coating on your teeth
- Red or white patches under your gums
What causes it?
The most common cause of a canker sore is from oral thrush and also from Candida albicans. Oral thrush is a fungal infection that’s caused by a yeast called Candida. It can develop in the mouth or on the skin.
Candida is a type of fungus that can cause many health problems.
According to the National Health Service (NHS), Candida is the most common cause of oral thrush in the United Kingdom.
What are the risk factors?
The following factors may raise your risk of canker sores:
- Eating sugary, acidic, or spicy foods
- Drinking alcohol
- Exposure to viruses or dental work
These factors can cause you to develop a canker sore more quickly.
You may also have a higher risk if you:
- Have an immune system disorder
- Have a weakened immune system
- Are pregnant
- Have diabetes
- Have HIV
- Have liver disease
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor can help diagnose a canker sore by:
- Taking a medical history
- Examining your mouth and gums for redness, swelling, and tenderness
- Performing a physical exam
Your doctor will want to rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms. These may include:
- Oral thrush
- Tooth decay
- Mouth cancer
- Bacterial infection
- Oral cancer
- Oral herpes
- Oral warts
How is it treated?
You may be able to treat a canker sore at home, but you may need to see a doctor for more treatment.
You should see your doctor if the symptoms don’t go away or if they get worse. Your doctor will be able to tell if the canker sore is caused by thrush or another underlying condition.
You can help ease the symptoms of a canker sore by brushing your teeth and rinsing your mouth with warm water.
Your doctor may recommend using an over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medication, such as nystatin or clotrimazole.
You may also need to see a dental professional. These professionals can:
- Remove any remaining white patches that may be left after brushing
- Clean your teeth and gums
- Apply a topical antifungal medication
- Locate an underlying cause of the canker sore
- Treat a canker sore if it’s caused by an infection
You may need to see a dentist more often, especially if the canker sore is caused by an infection. You may also need to see a dentist for dental cleanings more often.
If you have diabetes, you may need to take your diabetes medication more often.
What are the complications?
The most common complication of a canker sore is a tooth abscess. This happens when the canker sore becomes infected.
You may also need to see a dentist more often. A canker sore can cause a tooth to become abscessed. This can affect your ability to chew, swallow, and speak.
How do I prevent it?
You can prevent canker sores from developing by:
- Drinking plenty of water
- Keeping your mouth clean
- Getting regular dental cleanings
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Avoiding sugary, acidic, or spicy foods
- Avoiding alcohol
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding viruses and dental work
- Seeing your dentist regularly
What can I do to help myself?
What you can do at home to help ease the symptoms of a canker sore is:
- Brush your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste
- Floss your teeth
- Rinse your mouth with warm water
- Use an OTC antifungal medication or mouthwash
- Take a pain reliever or antibiotic if needed
If you’re having trouble brushing, talk with your dentist. They can give you tips and teach you how to brush properly.
What else can I do?
You can help ease the symptoms of a canker sore by:
- Drinking water or other beverages
- Avoiding sugary, acidic, or spicy food
When to see a doctor?
If you’re having trouble brushing your teeth, talk with your dentist. They can give you tips and teach you how to brush properly.
You should also see your dentist if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Intense pain
- Redness or swelling
You should also see your dentist if you have a canker sore that won’t heal or if it gets worse.
What’s the long-term outlook?
Canker sores aren’t usually serious. You’ll usually have one recur at least once in your life.
You may not have any symptoms or know you have a canker sore until it’s too late.
This can be especially true in children.
You should also see a dentist if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Intense, long-lasting pain
- A hard lump or mass
- A tooth abscess
- A fever
- A sore throat
- A rash
Canker sores are common, but they can be difficult to treat. If your symptoms don’t get better or your canker sore persists, talk with your doctor.
The bottom line
Canker sores are sores on your gums that are caused by an infection. They’re not usually serious.
An overactive immune system, a weak immune system, or certain underlying conditions can cause canker sores.
You can treat canker sores at home, but you should see your doctor if:
- You have a hard lump or mass on your gums
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