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What are Canker Sores?

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What are Canker Sores?

A canker sore is a small lesion found in the mouth area - on the inside of the cheeks, on the base of the gums, under the tongue, under the lips inside the mouth and occasionally at the back of the throat. Canker sores, medically termed ‘apthous ulcers’, are the result of a break or ulcer in the mucous membrane of the mouth where a lesion develops, often causing pain. When a canker sore is chronic or recurring, the condition can be considered a disease and is called Recurrent Apthous stomatitis and is identified when a canker sore recurs in the same area and is almost always painful.

Although the direct causes of canker sores is still a relative mystery in medical science, it is important to understand that canker sores are not ‘cold sores’ or ‘fever blisters’, which are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) residing in the nerve cells. Cold sores are rarely found in the mouth and usually develop on and around the lips, and sometimes on the nose or near the eyes. Canker sores are found almost exclusively in the mouth and although they can be caused by HSV-1, there are many other causes for canker sores.

It is estimated that over 20% of the population suffers from minor, major or herpetiform canker sores. Minor canker sores are less than 10mm (1cm) in diameter, where major ulcerations define any canker sore over 10mm in diameter. Herpetiform canker sores are a condition where multiple small canker sores (1-3mm in diameter) cluster together or coalesce into one giant canker sore. Canker sores affect both genders but are much more common in females.

  • Minor Apthous: small, isolated, oval ulcerations, less than 7.5mm in diameter.
  • Major Apthous: large, isolated, irregularly shaped ulceration, painful and larger than 10mm in diameter
  • Herpetiform Apthous: clusters of small ulcers (1-3mm in diameter), usually painful and sometimes recurrent. Can coalesce into large, major ulcerations.

Typically, women are affected more than men and canker sores are usually more evident in people from ages 15-30, slowly decreasing in frequency as the patient gets older. About 30% of people who suffer from herpetiform canker sores report a family history of the disease.

  • Teenagers and people in their 20’s are more likely to get a canker sore than people over 30
  • Women are more likely to get a canker sore
  • Approximately 30% of people with Recurrent Apthous Stomatitis report a family history.

Canker sore remedies are available in both non-prescription and prescription form. Some, such as Canker Cover, represent a new class of treatment because it performs three key actions - stops pain, protects from irritants and speeds resolution. Many liquid treatments simply stop pain but can be used in hard to reach places within the mouth. Prescription medications are primarily used when the canker sore simply won’t go away.

Next: Canker Sore Symptoms


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What are Canker Sores?