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Canker Sores

Q: For six months I've been having a problem with recurring mouth ulcers. Every two to three weeks, small sores pop up on my lips and inside my mouth on my cheeks and gums. They're not pretty, but even worse, they hurt and sometimes it's hard to eat. How can I make them go away?

Dr. Donnica: It sounds like you're describing "canker sores" (aphthous stomatitis), a common condition that affects up to one in five adults. No specific cause has been identified, but they do not seem to be infectious or contagious, unlike "cold sores," which are usually caused by Herpes simplex (type 1 herpes virus). Most theories focus on canker sores being caused by certain triggers to an immune system problem. As you described, the worst thing about mouth ulcers is the pain, which is worse with eating, drinking and talking.

If you have a mouth ulcer that is causing you worry, see your doctor. Canker sores can also be associated with other systemic diseases, so your doctor will want to rule those out. While there is no cure or consistently reliable treatment for this condition, there is one FDA-approved topical medication to treat canker sores called Aphthasol.

There is also an in-office dentist applied treatment called Debacterol, which may give relief and speed healing. Other treatment strategies include avoiding known triggers, following a healthy diet with vitamin supplementation, and practicing excellent oral hygiene, including use of antibacterial rinses (e.g. Listerine). Practicing stress-reduction may also be helpful. Some people find relief from topical steroid treatments (e.g. Kenalog, Lidex gel, Decadron rinses). For the on-going online survey results from canker sore sufferers and what has worked for them, go to www.mouthulcers.org.

Created: 11/21/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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