What is a Canker Sore


There are several common mouth ulcers and some are often confused with others, so exactly what is a canker sore?  The medical term for canker sores is Aphthous ulcers, which are painful, shallow lesions found on the inside of the mouth.

Canker Sore Symptoms

Canker sores are small painful ulcers inside the mouthCanker sores often start with a tingling or burning sensation before the ulcer appears. They usually begin as small round or oval reddish bumps that soon rupture and become covered with a white or yellow film surrounded by a red border.  They can appear on the inner lip or cheek, on the tongue, gums or the soft palate. The biggest annoyance is that they tend to be painful and can especially hurt when eating or drinking anything acidic. Most of the time there is only one sore, but sometimes they may appear in a small cluster.  They are usually harmless and go away on their own in one to two weeks without leaving scars. Larger ulcers will take longer to heal and may leave scarring.

Most canker sores are quite small, about the size of a pencil eraser or smaller, but on rare occasion they can be up to a inch in diameter. While it is not common, some people experience a fever,  general discomfort or swollen lymph nodes.

If you have a canker sore be assured you are not the only one. These annoying and painful mouth ulcers have plagued the world for thousands of years. About 80% of the U.S. population has experienced a canker sore sometime in their life, and women seem to get them more often than men. There may be a hormonal link, as women prone to canker sores often get them at a certain time in their menstrual cycle and they often disappear during pregnancy. Canker sores  usually show up for the first time between the ages of 10 and 20.

Canker Sores vs Cold Sores

Unlike cold sores, also known as fever blisters, canker sores are not contagious. Therefore you cannot spread your sores by kissing someone or sharing food or drink. An easy way to distinguish between a canker sore and a cold sore is to remember that cold sores, which are caused by a virus, are usually found around the outside of the mouth including the lips, cheeks and inside nostrils, while canker sores are always located inside the mouth.

Types of Canker Sores

There are several different kinds of canker sores.

Minor Aphthae – the most common kind of canker sore comprises 80% of cases. These are small, usually less than 12 mm in diameter, oval shaped and heal within 7-14 days without scarring.

Major Aphthae – These are less common, comprising about 10% cases. Sores are larger than 12mm with irregular edges and take a long time to heal, as much as 6 weeks. They may leave scarring.

Herpetiform Aphthae – The third type of canker sore comprises about 10% of cases and is usually seen in older people. The sores are quite small with irregular edges and develop in clusters of 10 or more sores. These usually heal in about two weeks and do not leave scarring.

When You Should Contact a Medical Professional

While  most of the time canker sores are a temporary nuisance, you should see your doctor if  your sores are extremely large, if they last more than three weeks or recur frequently, or if the pain is so severe you cannot find relief, or eating and drinking becomes nearly impossible.

Canker Sore Treatments

Now that you have your answer to the question of just what is a canker sore, you can check out some options on this site for relieving the pain and encouraging the healing process. There are lots of helpful canker sore treatments you can try at home, including home-made mouth rinses and numbing gels. Your mouth  should soon be feeling back to normal before you know it.


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