Canker Sores
(Aphthous Ulcers)

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Canker sores facts

  • Canker sores are small, painful ulcers on the inside of the mouth, lips, or throat.
  • Symptoms of canker sores include small, painful, crater-like ulcers.
  • See a doctor if canker sores are accompanied by fever, last more than three weeks, or the affected individual has difficulty swallowing.
  • Multiple factors may cause canker sores, including injury to the mouth, acidic or spicy foods, vitamin deficiencies, hormones, stress, or autoimmune disorders.
  • Canker sores are not the same thing as fever blisters (cold sores).
  • Most canker sores require no treatment and resolve on their own.
  • To help relieve pain and speed healing, treatments and remedies for canker sores include topical medications, mouthwashes, and over-the-counter pain medications.
  • People with frequent canker sores should see their doctor to get tested for possible underlying medical conditions.

What are canker sores?

Canker sores (aphthous ulcers or aphthous stomatitis) are small, painful ulcers inside the mouth. They may occur on the tongue and on the inside linings of the cheeks, lips, and throat. They usually appear white, gray, or yellow in color, with a red border.

Canker sores are the most common type of oral lesion, affecting about 20% of people. Women get canker sores more often than men. Canker sore susceptibility may be inherited, and the condition can run in families.

Canker sores are not the same as cold sores (fever blisters), which are an infection caused by the herpes virus and are contagious. Canker sores are not contagious and are categorized into three types:

  1. Minor sores measure from 3 to 10 millimeters (mm) and are the most common type of canker sore. Lesions last 10 to 14 days and heal without scarring.
  2. Major sores are larger and deeper than minor sores, have an irregular border and a diameter of greater than 10 mm. Major canker sores may take weeks to months to heal and can leave a scar after healing.
  3. Herpetiform sores are characterized by large groups of multiple sores. These are small ulcers (2-3 mm) but there may be as many as 100 ulcers present at the same time. They tend to heal without scarring.
Picture of a canker sore (aphthous ulcer)
Picture of a canker sore (aphthous ulcer)
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/9/2014

Patient Comments

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Canker Sores - Effective Treatments Question: Please describe what treatments have been effective for your canker sores.
Canker Sores - Symptoms Question: What were the symptoms of your canker sores?
Canker Sores - Topical Medications Question: What topical medications have been effective treatments for your canker sores?
Canker Sores - Oral Medications Question: Which medications have you tried for pain or to treat your canker sores? What would you recommend?
Canker Sores - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with canker sores.

Canker Sores (Mouth Sores) Symptoms

Some people may experience the following related canker sores symptoms and signs:

  • Bleeding Gums
  • Lump Or Mass On Gums
  • Painful Gums

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