Dental Tips |4 min read

Your Guide to Canker Sores: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment [Plus Video]

Canker sore pain? Get relief with our canker sore guide.

Do you have a painful white spot inside your lip or cheek? It could be a canker sore!

Cankers sores (aphthous ulcers or aphthous stomatitis) are small, shallow lesions on the soft tissues inside your mouth or at the base of your gums.

They are sometimes confused with core sores; however, canker sores are not contagious and do not occur on the surface of your lip.

Even though they naturally disappear in one or two weeks, they can be painful and make it hard to eat and talk.

Our dentist in Columbia, SC Dr. Griffin wants to help you navigate canker sores so you can keep calm and carry on. In this blog, we will outline the:

  • Symptoms
  • Different types
  • Causes
  • Treatments

If you have a question that’s not answered in our canker sore guide, call us at 803-788-0099! We are more than happy to help you.

Symptoms of Canker Sores

You can often recognize a canker sore by these Opens new tab to WebMD websitesymptoms:

  • A painful sore(s) inside your mouth or cheeks
  • A sore that is round or oval with a white or yellow center and a red edge
  • A tingling or burning sensation before it appears

For more severe canker sores, you may experience these symptoms:

  • A fever
  • Physically sluggishness
  • Swollen lymph nodes

What are the different types of canker sores?

There are Opens new tab to Very Well Health websitethree main types of canker sores: minor, major, and herpetiform.

Here are the differences between each type:

Minor canker sores: 

  • The most common type
  • Are usually small (less than 1/2 inch)
  • Round or oval-shaped
  • Can be painful
  • Heal without scarring within two weeks
  • Often referred to as “simple” canker sores

Major canker sores:

  • Less common
  • Are larger and deeper than minor ulcers
  • Usually round but may have irregularly shaped edges
  • Can be extremely painful
  • May take up to six weeks to heal and leave a scar
  • Often referred to as “complex” canker sores

Herpetiform canker sores:

  • Uncommon and usually develop later in life
  • Often appear in clusters of 10 to 100 sores
  • The cluster may merge into one large sore
  • Irregularly shaped
  • Heal without scarring within two weeks

Man with a large canker sore inside his lip

What causes canker sores in the mouth?

As of today, doctors and researchers have not yet pinpointed the exact cause. However, several studies have shown a few possible Opens new tab to Mayo Clinic websitetriggers. These include:

  • Trauma or minor injury in your mouth (over brushing, sports-related, biting your cheek, hot food burn, dental work, etc.)
  • Emotional stress or anxiety
  • Changes in hormonal levels (menstruation)
  • Toothpaste or mouthwash with sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Food sensitivities (particularly spicy, citrus or acidic foods or drinks)
  • Lack of iron, zinc, vitamin B-12, or folic acid

Research also shows ulcers were more common in people with certain diseases and conditions, such as:

  • Celiac disease (sensitivity to gluten)
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis
  • A faulty immune system that attacks healthy cells in your mouth
  • Behcet’s disease (causes inflammation throughout the body)

How do you get rid of canker sores in the mouth?

Better yet, how do you get rid of canker sore pain?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for canker sores (yet). But the good news is these ulcers will heal on their own.

If you experience pain with a canker sore, the time it takes for it to heal can feel like forever. So, to help you treat your canker sore symptoms, we recommend the following:

  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatories (Advil)
  • Numbing the areas with a topical anesthetic (Orajel or Orabase)

What should you do if it doesn’t heal on its own?

If you can’t get pain relief with the treatments above or your canker sore shows no signs of healing, then we recommend visiting our dentist in Columbia, SC.

Dr. Griffin can examine your oral health and prescribe a treatment. Some treatments include:

  • Painkillers
  • Steroid inhalers (beclometasone)
  • Steroid tablets (doxycycline)
  • Debacterol

If your ulcer hasn’t healed within three weeks, then we advise you to visit us soon. This could be a sign of an underlying illness or disease, including oral cancer that sometimes starts as an unusual, unhealing mouth ulcer.

How to prevent canker sores

Don’t want a canker sore again? Then you’re going to want to read this.

Canker sores often reoccur, but with these tips on how to prevent canker sores, you might be in luck:

  • Avoid foods or drinks that irritate your mouth
  • Avoid irritating your gums (chewing or braces)
  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Brush and floss after meals (prevents irritating food from lingering)
  • Protect your mouth (mouthguards during sports or wax for pokey braces)
  • Reduce your stress levels

Did this guide help you?

We would love to know if our guide helped you or someone you know. Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Want more? Check out this informative video on canker sores with our restorative dentist in Columbia, SC:

As always, let us know if you have any questions. You can reach WildeWood Aesthetic Dentistry at:

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2017 and has been completely revamped for comprehensiveness and timeliness.