Dentist - Dr. Amy Norman, DDS, PS

Swedish Researchers May Have the Key to Treating Cold Sores

Recurrent aphthous stomatitis. Known also as canker sores. Those red, painful spots or ulcers that appear on the inside of the lips, on the tongue or inside the cheek and make talking and eating painful or difficult. Sufferers of canker sores know the pain of this condition all too well. Researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden are working to change how canker sores are treated by identifying potential causes of the condition

Treatments for the condition usually include topical analgesics to reduce or numb the pain, and in many cases, just waiting for the sore to go away on its own. Canker sores are also hard to distinguish from cold sores. As a result, they are also often treated with the same antiviral medications used for the treatment of cold sores. 


Swedish scientists have uncovered new possible reasons behind the development of canker sores which may lead to different ways of treating the condition.

The new cause uncovered in their research is an abundance of bacteria flora in the mouth. Participants in the study that suffered from cold sores were found to have high rates of bacteria in their mouths compared to their counterparts who did not have cold sores. Other possible causes uncovered by the study include allergies to certain foods and genetics.

For many years, physicians and dentists believe that canker sores were caused by viruses, stress or foods high in acid content.

Over half of the population of the United States has canker sores, according to the American Academy of Oral Medicine. Canker sores can develop in anyone, but women and teenagers are more likely to get them and get them more frequently.

The sores appear as ulcers with a red border and a yellow or white center. They may be large or small. In many people, the onset of a canker sore begins with a tingling feeling which some individuals liken to the onset of a cold sore. In most cases, patients only have one canker sore at a time, but some individuals have multiple sores developed at one time.

There are two types of canker sores. Simple canker sore occurs just a few times per year and take about seven to 10 days to heal. Complex, or major, canker sores may last as long as six weeks. Canker sores may hurt for seven to 10 days. Minor canker sores do not leave scars, while major canker sores can leave scars. Patients that experience major canker sores have more outbreaks than individuals with simple canker sores.

"Canker sores of either type are annoying and very painful," Dr. Amy Norman, D.D.S., P.S. said.

Treatment for canker sores includes a soft diet of bland foods. Canker sore sufferers should avoid spicy foods, coffee, and foods high in acid, like orange juice or tomato sauce. Individuals with canker sores should also avoid both very hot or very cold foods, as extreme temperatures can cause a painful flare up of the sore.

Canker sores can make brushing the teeth painful, so patients with them should brush gently, avoiding the site of the sore.

"Patients can also rinse with warm salt water to clean their mouths and ease canker sore pain," Norman said. 

Over the counter pain relievers and topical oral analgesics also may reduce pain for some patients. People with major canker sores may be prescribed medication or special mouth rinses.

Aside from making eating and talking difficult, canker sores may also cause fatigue, fever, a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes. Patients should relay these symptoms to their dentist and may require a further examination.

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