It may only be the size of a pencil eraser, but a canker sore can be hard to ignore. You know it’s there-and it hurts like the dickens, especially whenever you eat or drink something. Fortunately, a canker sore is usually a fairly short-lived misery, and there are a few things you can do to find some temporary relief. First, however, you need to be able to tell the difference between a canker sore and what’s called a cold sore,or fever blister, which is caused by the herpes virus. A cold sore often begins as several tiny blisters that eventually form one larger sore. They appear most often ‘on the lips and face. In contrast, canker sores usually travel alone. And unlike a sore caused by the herpes virus, a canker sore is not contagious. A canker sore has a yellow or white-gray center with a well-defined red border. It generally measures three to five millimeters in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser) and is usually located on the inside of the lip or cheek or, less commonly, on the tongue. What causes canker sores? No one knows for sure, says Robert P. Langlais, D.D.S., M.S., professor in the Department of Dental Diagnostic Science at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “Being run down or tired, or suffering from stress or poor nutrition may contribute. ”
“You see them in students around finals,” says Alan S. Levy, D.D.S., clinical instructor at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry in Los Angeles. He points out that they may also occur as a result of a minor injury in the mouth, such as from a slip of the toothbrush or a jab from a taco shell. Certain foods, such as spicy dishes and citrus fruits, have also taken some of the blame.
About 20 percent of the population seems to get canker sores occasionally, and women are more likely than men to suffer from them. Some women tend to get canker sores at certain times during their menstrual cycle.
Here’s what you can do for relief. Keep in mind, though, that “a canker sore will last seven days with treatment and one week without treatment,” Levy says. A canker sore can take up to two weeks to heal, if one sticks around longer than that, see your dentist.
Get out the styptic pencil. Many a barber has used a styptic pencil to stem bleeding from minor nicks and cuts. Used on a canker sore, it will numb the nerve endings, temporarily reducing the pain.
Make your own remedy. It may sound like a strange combination,but several dentists swear by this homemade remedy. Mix together equal among Milk of Magnesia or Kaopectate and Benylin or Benadryl. Milk of Magnesia and Kaopectate both contain ingredients that coat wet tissues, such as those in the mouth. Benylin and Benadryl contai ingredients that act as mild topical anesthetics an antihistamines (which reduce inflammation). Apply the mixture to the canker sore using a cotton swab. Be careful not to swallow the stuff; you could end up anesthetizing (numbing) the reflex that keeps the windpipe closed when you swallow, warns Langlais.
Go over-the-counter. Use an over-the-counter product like Orabase with Benzocaine. “It’s like oral bandage,” says Becky De Spain, R.D.H., M.Ed., director of the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene at Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas. “It covers up the surface.” If you use something that keeps the sore coated, you’ll help prevent a secondary infection, says Levy. Products with xylocaine, a local anesthetic, can also dull the pain.
Take two aspirin. You can take aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to help relieve the pain, especially before meals if the canker sore interferes with eating, says Langlais.
Stick to cool foods. Stay away from foods that are hot-in terms of temperature and spiciness. They’ll burn and sting tender canker sores, says De Spain.
Be gentle. Wield that toothbrush extra carefully to avoid Irritating a canker sore. You may want to avoid rough, scratchy foods such as chips for the time being as well.
Stop bad habits. Alcohol and smoking can irritate , a canker sore, says Richard Price, D.M.D., consumer adviser/spokesperson for the American Dental Association. A little abstinence may provide a lot of relief.
Check out your diet. One old wives’ tale blames canker sores on tomatoes. Experts admit some sort of allergic reaction to foods may be to blame, but others point out that food allergies can cause lesions that resemble canker sores. If you’re plagued with frequent canker sores, pay attention to your diet and notice whether an outbreak seems to be linked with any particular food. Likely offenders, nuts, shellfish, chocolate, and tomatoes. What to do if you discover a connection? You guessed it-avoid the offending food.
Learn to handle stress. That’s the best advice for preventing canker sores. Try to find some method of relieving or coping with stress. Examples that you might try include engaging in a hobby, an exercise program, yoga, or meditation.
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Filed under: Skin Disorders