Aphthous ulcers is the medical name for the common condition known as canker sores. No matter what you call it, this condition can be painful, irritating and trying. Fortunately, it is also fairly easy to treat and in most cases is not serious. Treated promptly and carefully, you can be rid of these uncomfortable sores relatively quickly and painlessly.
Simply put, aphthous ulcers are small, shallow lesions that develop inside the mouth. They can vary in size from pinpoint to the size of a dime and are generally white in the center and red around the edges. They can form in various areas inside the mouth including the base of the gum, inside the cheek, under your tongue or on your soft palate. Unlike cold sores, they do not occur on the exterior portion of the mouth and consequently are not contagious.
There are several different types of aphthous ulcers, identified based on their size. None of them are considered serious on their own, although aphthous ulcers that recur regularly could be a warning sign of an underlying illness. If you have canker sores that won’t seem to go away on their own, you should contact your doctor so that he can test you for other illnesses and begin proper treatment.
How are canker sores caused?
Although there is no known cause for these lesions several potential triggers for the painful lesions have recently been identified. These include damage caused by biting your cheek or from eating spicy or extremely hot foods; brushing your teeth too vigorously; accidents while having dental work done; hormone shifts during a woman’s menstrual cycle; fever and extreme stress.
Other risk factors include certain dietary deficiencies, including a lack of B12, zinc or iron. Also, ailments including Celiac disease, Inflammatory bowel disorder and immune deficiency can all lead to the development of aphthous ulcers. Because many of these conditions run in families, there can also be a genetic tendency toward developing canker sores. And because of their link to hormonal imbalance at various stages of female development, women are far more likely to develop them than men.
The detergents found in many types of toothpaste can cause mouth sores in some individuals. Conventional toothpaste contains irritating detergents (sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate), which have been shown to greatly increase the occurrence of mouth sores.
Do aphthous ulcers need to be treated or left alone?
Fortunately in most cases the ulcers will usually resolve in 10 to 14 days if left untreated so medical treatment is not necessary. Topical cortisone treatment applied to the ulcers several times a day may relieve the pain and shorten healing time. Topical anesthetic gel applied to the ulcers will provide symptomatic relief and make it possible to eat without pain.
A multi-vitamin with iron should be taken every day to counteract any possible vitamin or iron deficiency.
Recent studies have also uncovered several natural remedies that have proven successful in treating aphthous ulcers. These include the use of German chamomile, the herb Lady’s Mantle and deglycyrrhizinnated licorice, or DGL.
For more simple home treatment, you can apply ice to the sores or rinse your mouth with warm salt water to relieve pain. You can also brush your teeth gently using toothpaste that does not contain a foaming agent, as these chemicals can exacerbate canker sores. A good toothpaste to use is Rembrandt, a toothpaste specially made for patients with aphthous ulcers. Rembrandt is available without a prescription at your local drug store.