Information on Canker Sores

Canker sores, also known as 'aphthous ulcers', are small, shallow ulcers that appear in the mouth and often make eating and talking very uncomfortable.

Statistics demonstrate that at least 20 percent of the population have canker sores at any one time. Other statistics indicate that women and teenagers are more prone to canker sores than men, and that canker sore suffering can be genetic in cause and susceptibility shared within family members.

Generally, canker sores are not a threat to your overall general health. However, the symptoms caused by canker sore attacks can interfere considerably with your day-to-day quality of life.

What is a Canker Sore?

Canker sores are known in the medical community as “aphthous ulcers" and they are classified in three forms:

Minor – Accounting for 80% of reported cases of canker sores in the general population. They are approximately 1-10mm in diameter and last anywhere from 7-10 days.

Major – These make up 10% of reported cases. These canker sores are larger than 10mm and anywhere between 10-30 days to heal and could result in scarring.

Herpetiform – These ulcers account for 7%-10% of canker sores. They can be located in the back of the mouth and although they are the smallest type of canker sores (pinpoint in size), they tend to occur in large simultaneous groups of sores. Women experience these type of sores more than men with the duration usually lasting between 7-14 days, however, they can persist for weeks. Even though the name suggests they may linked to herpes simplex 1 virus, they are classified as canker sores as opposed to cold sores.

Canker sores, on the whole, develop on 'movable' parts of the mouth – tongue, cheeks, lips, and at the base of the gums and they occur within the mouth, unlike cold sores. They start out as tiny, red “pimples" that usually burst within a day. Once ruptured, a thin white or yellow membrane will cover the sores. Generally, the vast majority of sores heal within two weeks without requiring treatment and without scarring.

Canker Sore Symptoms

Symptoms vary from person to person and individuals may have different symptoms during different attacks and differ in length and frequency.

They are small typically round or oval ulcers that cause a tingling or burning in the mouth. This sensation often occurs six to 24 hours before a canker sore appears. They are very painful.

They are usually not accompanied by other symptoms (like fever or swollen lymph nodes).

What are the Causes and Characteristics of Canker Sore?

The exact cause of canker sores is unknown. However, to date, researchers have been able to determine that canker sores do not appear to be caused by viruses or bacteria, although some studies demonstrate that that may develop as an allergic reaction to bacterium in the mouth.

They may also be the result of a weakened immune system where the body protects itself against and destroys normal mouth cells. Studies have found that vitamin B12, folic acid and iron deficiencies may be responsible for up to 20% of cases, and certain grains/cereals have been found in some people to cause a gastrointestinal reaction leading to canker sore development.

Other underlying health conditions that may affect canker sores include a weakened immune system; diet and nutritional problems, vitamin and mineral deficiencies; or gastrointestinal tract diseases such as celiac or Crohn's disease

Are Canker Sores and Cold Sores the Same Thing?

Cold sores and canker sores are very often confused between each other, they are different. Cold sores, often referred to as 'fever blisters' or 'herpes simplex type 1', are very painful, blisters, which can often be filled with fluid. Unlike canker sores, cold sores are caused by a virus and are very contagious. Also, while canker sores occur inside the mouth, cold sores generally appear outside the mouth appearing in places such as under the nose, around the lip area and/or under the chin. Cold sores can also 'cluster' with several cold sores occurring in the same location. Canker sores and cold sores require different treatments for successful elimination and prevention.


1 - WebMD

2 - Wikipedia

3 - eMedicine Health