Mouth lesions, also known as canker sores, are oval-shaped sores that form on the surface of the soft tissue inside the oral cavity. Resulting from various factors, including injury and stress, canker sores may manifest in different ways and impair one’s ability to eat or speak normally. There are a variety of treatments for canker sores and their use is dependent on the individual and severity of the lesion. A mouth lesion which does not heal, or worsens, may be indicative of a more serious condition and require additional medical attention.
Canker sores may be classified in three distinct categories. Minor sores are less than half an inch in diameter (about 12 mm), generally heal within two weeks, and leave no scar. Irregularly shaped canker sores, which are greater than half an inch in diameter, are considered major sores and may take over a month to heal and scar the affected tissue. Herpetiform mouth lesions are small, odd-shaped sores that form in clusters and may heal within two weeks without scarring. An individual with a canker sores may experience additional symptoms, including fever and swollen lymph nodes.
There are a variety of factors which contribute to the development of canker sores. Individuals under extreme stress, have certain food allergies, or consume a diet lacking essential vitamins and minerals, including B-12, iron, and zinc, may be more susceptible to developing mouth lesions. Those who have sustained an injury to their mouth or accidentally bitten the inside of their cheek may be at an increased risk for developing a canker sore. The presence of disease, including inflammatory bowel disease and Behcet’s disease, or a compromised immune system may also contribute to an individual’s susceptibility for mouth sores.
There are no established tests for diagnosing a canker sore. Most sores are easily identifiable and may be discovered during a routine examination. Individuals who experience recurrent mouth sores, unmanageable or extreme discomfort with a mouth lesion, or extensive fever in the presence of a canker sore should seek immediate medical attention. Persistent symptoms may be indicative of a more serious condition requiring additional testing and treatment. Though mild canker sores usually do not require medical attention, larger mouth lesions usually do.
Prescribed mouth rinses are beneficial for reducing healing time and alleviating discomfort associated with larger canker sores, but their use may increase an individual's susceptibility to additional outbreaks. Topical medications may be applied directly to the lesion to alleviate discomfort and reduce healing time. For major sores, which do not respond to standard treatment, an oral antibiotic or steroidal medication may be prescribed. Sores which form as the result of an imbalanced diet may be alleviated through the use of nutritional supplements, which are available over the counter. Individuals who experience canker sores resulting from a secondary condition may undergo additional treatment to alleviate the underlying cause of the outbreaks.