Canker sores are painful sores that form inside of the mouth. They are typically white in color and last for anywhere from between 1 week to over a month. Most people only get one canker sore at a time, but others can get more than one, or have multiple canker sores combine to form a larger, sometimes more painful sore.
But how we get these canker sores is a mystery. We actually do not know what causes canker sores or why people get them. They are not like many other types of mouth sores. Scientists have, however, discovered some risk factors for canker sores, and knowing these risks can help you at least understand your canker sores better.
What Causes Canker Sores?
There are many illnesses that can lead to sores in and around the mouth. Perhaps the most common is the “Cold Sore,” which is a reddish sore that forms on the lip outside of the mouth. Cold sores are not caused by the cold, but are actually caused by the contagious herpes virus, and they first occur when someone comes into contact with the virus (typically through kissing or sharing drinks) and then recur often, because the herpes virus does not leave the body.
But canker sores are different.
Canker sores are not caused by a virus, and they’re not contagious. These sores, which are known as recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS), seem to have little clear cause at all. To this day, scientists still have no idea why some people get canker sores and others do not. They also do not know what triggers them.
Cold sores (herpes) tend to be triggered by anything that temporarily weakens the immune system, such as an illness, extreme weather (including both cold AND hot weather), stress, or general ill health.
But with canker sores, the pattern is not there. Most people do not seem to get canker sores for any clear reason. However, some studies have loosely connected canker sores to:
- Menstruation – Women appear slightly more likely to develop canker sores when menstruating.
- Age – Teenagers and young adults are more likely to get canker sores.
- Anxiety/Stress – There is some evidence that canker sores may be more common when stressed.
These different risk factors do not explain all canker sores. They have also been linked to diet, smoking, vitamin deficiencies, and poor sleep. One thing they all have in common is that they all affect hormone levels, which means that there may be a connection to hormones, but what that connection is has not yet been established.
Canker Sore Prevention and Treatment
Since we do not know what causes canker sores, we do not know exactly how to prevent them. Since there is a link to stress and anxiety, it is helpful to find ways to reduce stress. It is also a good idea to eat a healthy diet and improving sleep. But you are unlikely to be able to prevent all canker sores. If you have a canker sore that is especially large or painful, contact Dr. Jubaji of Live Oak Dental Group, as we may have some treatments that can help reduce pain. We can also take a look at your dental health – because, while canker sores do not cause oral health issues, hormonal and stress related challenges can. If they may be causing your canker sores, they may be causing other dental problems as well. Give us a call to schedule your visit if you are having an issue.