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One of the most common mouth maladies in the oral health world is the canker sore. At some point in time, we’ve all had one. And as easy as they are to get, no one is fond of them. Here’s a helpful guide to understanding what they are and what to do in order to seek canker sore relief.

What Is a Canker Sore?

A canker sore is a minor abrasion that develops on the mouth’s soft tissue, lips or at the base of the gum line. Though they are small in size, a canker sore in just the right spot can make eating and talking quite difficult.

Canker sores fall into three categories, according to Mayo Clinic: minor, major and herpetiform. Minor canker sores are typically small, oval-shaped and capable of healing in one to two weeks. Major sores tend to be larger and deeper with irregular edges. Their healing process can last as long as six weeks and produce noticeable scarring. Herpetiform develop in the later stages of life, are the size of a pinpoint and often appear in a cluster of 10 to 100. Although they heal in the same time frame as minor canker sores, they also have irregular edges similar to major canker sores.

Treating Canker Sores

If you think you have a canker sore, consult your doctor or dentist first; he or she can determine if you do and what type it is. Remember, minor canker sores typically don’t need treatment, as they’ll usually dissipate in a couple of weeks. For major or herpetiform canker sores, there are several treatment options available:

  • Topical pastes: Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription pastes dispel pain while accelerating the healing process if applied early on and reapplied multiple times per day.
  • Mouth rinses: For multiple canker sores, a mouth rinse containing a steroid known as dexamethasone provides pain relief while reducing swelling. Your doctor or dentist will need to prescribe the rinse.
  • Cauterization: This process involves an instrument that chemically burns the portion of tissue where the sore resides.

Natural Relief

If your canker sore is the side-effect of a different medical condition, there are still several ways to find relief. These include rinsing your mouth with a solution of saltwater and baking soda or using an OTC product that contains benzocaine, a numbing agent. Apply bits of ice to the sore, as well, and avoid acidic or spicy foods until it dissipates. And be sure to brush your teeth gently so as not to aggravate the tissue around the blister.

Preventative Measures

If none of these treatments sounds appealing or has been effective for you, your best course of treatment is to prevent canker sores altogether. Here are a few tips on how to do just that:

  • Consume plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Along with avoiding spicy and acidic foods, minimize your consumption of chips, pretzels and nuts. These types of sharp, salty foods can also irritate the mouth.
  • Eating healthy foods and avoiding other specific items is half the battle. The other half rests in developing good oral hygiene habits. This includes brushing after meals and flossing every day.

No one likes getting a canker sore, but by following the right course of treatment – and consulting your dentist – you’ll find canker sore relief before you know it.