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If you have ever suffered through an aphthous stomatitis, you will likely never forget it. These mouth sores, also known as canker sores, can be a painful nuisance. It also seems like the same people tend to get them over and over again, leading some of us to wonder why we’ve been cursed with this dreaded mouth condition. How do you treat canker sores once you have one? Read on to find out.

Recognizing a Canker Sore

Canker sores can be easily identified: They are round and red around the edges, with a middle portion that is ulcerated and yellow-gray in color. According to Merck Manual, the area where the sore will appear becomes painful a day or two before the actual lesion is visible however each individual is different. Aphthous stomatitis can occur in a number of places in the oral cavity, including on the inside of the lips and cheeks, gum tissue, soft palate, tonsils, tongue and floor of the mouth.

Most of the time, the sore you find in your mouth is only a minor aphthous ulcer that will heal in seven to 14 days and stay under a half-inch in diameter. In rarer cases, a major aphthous ulcer can appear that takes several weeks to heal and may leave a scar. Sores that appear in clusters or are larger than an inch across may also be connected to a systemic disease such as HIV, says Medscape.

Canker Sores vs. Cold Sores

Sometimes canker sores are confused with other mouth sores such as cold sores. The main visual difference between the two is that cold sores appear as weepy or crusted raised blisters, while canker sores form shallow ulcerated areas. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, and also generally form on the outside of the mouth. They can last for up to two weeks, around the same time as a canker sore.

It’s also important to note that, while you can’t give a friend or partner a case of stomatitis, cold sores are contagious. You should always wash your hands after touching a sore and avoid sharing drinking glasses, straws or products such as lip balm.

What Causes Canker Sores?

Aphthous stomatitis occurs in 20 to 30 percent of adults and an even higher number of children, says Merck Manual. Canker sores typically develop less often as a person ages and diminish in severity over time, and sometimes they vanish for the rest of a person’s life.

These pesky lesions can develop for a variety of reasons. Oral trauma such as a cheek bite may cause a sore for some people, while others notice more sores when they suffer from extreme stress. Acidic foods such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, coffee and chocolate can also set off an episode of aphthous stomatitis in susceptible people.

Certain health conditions can make a person more likely to suffer from canker sores, including celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, HIV and lupus, writes the Cleveland Clinic. Besides your dentist, you should talk to your doctor if you suffer from constant or reoccurring mouth sores.

How Are Aphthous Ulcers Treated?

Although painful, most lesions resolve on their own within seven to 14 days without any treatment. Using a mouthrinse can help promote the healing of minor mouth irritations, such as canker sores, and provides a whole mouth clean after a daily routine of brushing and flossing. Mouthrinses helps reduce bacteria in minor oral wounds to help prevent infection.

If you have a lesion that is particularly large, have multiple canker sores at once or have lesions that occur one after another, don’t hesitate to contact your dentist. According to the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry, they may need to prescribe you a topical ointment or mouthwash. Stubborn canker sores or lesions caused by a more serious condition may also require corticosteriods or antibiotics.

That red spot in your mouth may be painful, but with careful monitoring and good oral hygiene it should heal all by itself. A healthy mouth includes not only your teeth, but also everything else that helps you eat, talk and smile comfortably.