aphthous ulcers

Aphthous ulcers, also known as canker sores, are a common type of oral lesion that affects millions of people around the world. These painful, shallow sores can appear on the inside of the lips, cheeks, and tongue, and they can make eating, drinking, and talking uncomfortable. While they’re not contagious or dangerous, they can be a nuisance and can affect the quality of life for those who suffer from them. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at aphthous ulcers, their causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention.


What are Aphthous Ulcers?

Aphthous ulcers are small, painful sores that appear on the inside of the mouth, including the lips, cheeks, and tongue. They can range in size from a few millimeters to several centimeters in diameter and are typically white or yellowish in color with a red border. They are not contagious and usually resolve on their own within one to two weeks, but they can be recurrent, with some people experiencing them multiple times a year.


Types of Canker Sores

There are three types of canker sores:

  • Minor aphthous ulcers
  • Major aphthous ulcers
  • Herpetiform aphthous ulcers


Minor aphthous ulcers

These are the most common type, accounting for about 80% of all cases. They are small, shallow sores that are less than 1 cm in diameter and typically heal within one to two weeks.

Major aphthous ulcers

These are less common but larger and deeper than minor ulcers. They are typically more painful and take longer to heal, sometimes up to six weeks. They can leave scars after healing and can be as large as 1-3 cm in diameter.

Herpetiform aphthous ulcers

These are the least common but the most painful type of aphthous ulcers. They are tiny, multiple sores that can merge to form larger ulcers. They can be as small as a pinhead or as large as a dime.


What Causes Aphthous Ulcers?

The exact cause of aphthous ulcers is unknown, but there are several factors that may contribute to their development. These include:

  • Genetics
  • Trauma
  • Stress
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Hormonal changes
  • Certain foods



Canker sores may run in families, indicating that there may be a genetic predisposition to them.


Any trauma or injury to the mouth, such as biting the inside of the cheek, can trigger the development of an aphthous ulcer.


Emotional or physical stress can weaken the immune system, making it more susceptible to the development of aphthous ulcers.

Nutritional deficiencies

A lack of certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc, folate, and vitamin B12, can increase the risk of developing aphthous ulcers.

Hormonal changes

Some women may develop canker sores during their menstrual cycle, possibly due to hormonal changes.

Certain foods

Spicy or acidic foods, such as citrus fruits or tomatoes, can trigger the development of aphthous ulcers in some people.


Symptoms of Aphthous Ulcers

The symptoms of canker sores can vary depending on the type and severity of the ulcer. Some common symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Burning or tingling sensation
  • White or yellowish color
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Difficulty eating or speaking



Aphthous ulcers can be very painful, especially when eating, drinking, or talking.

Burning or tingling sensation

Some people may experience a burning or tingling sensation before the ulcer appears.

White or yellowish color

The ulcer may have a white or yellowish color with a red border.

Swollen lymph nodes

Swollen lymph nodes in the neck may occur in some cases.

Difficulty eating or speaking

The pain and discomfort caused by the ulcer may make it difficult to eat or speak.


Treatment of Aphthous Ulcers

Most minor canker sores will heal on their own within one to two weeks without any treatment. However, treatment can help alleviate pain and discomfort and speed up the healing process. Treatment options include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
  • Topical treatments
  • Oral rinses
  • Prescription medication


Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers

Pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help alleviate the pain caused by aphthous ulcers.

Topical treatments

Topical treatments such as corticosteroid or numbing gels can be applied directly to the ulcer to help reduce pain and inflammation.

Oral rinses

Rinsing the mouth with saltwater or an oral rinse containing an antiseptic or steroid can help reduce pain and promote healing.

Prescription medication

In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe a stronger topical or oral medication to reduce inflammation and promote healing.


Laser treatment for Canker Sores

Laser treatment has proven to be an effective solution for Aphthous Ulcers. There are three main reasons why laser treatment is effective:

  • The laser provides immediate pain relief by destroying the nerve cells surrounding the affected area.
  • It causes biostimulation which boosts collagen production, promoting a more powerful natural healing process.
  • The healing process begins within a few days, making laser treatment a fast and efficient solution for Aphthous Ulcers.


Prevention of Aphthous Ulcers

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent aphthous ulcers from developing, there are some steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of their development. These include:

  • Avoiding triggers
  • Good oral hygiene
  • Stress management
  • Proper nutrition


Avoiding triggers

Identify and avoid any triggers that may cause canker sores to develop, such as spicy or acidic foods.

Good oral hygiene

Maintaining good oral hygiene can help prevent the development of oral infections that may lead to aphthous ulcers.

Stress management

Managing stress through relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga, can help reduce the risk of developing canker sores.

Proper nutrition

Eating a balanced diet that includes foods rich in vitamins and minerals can help reduce the risk of developing aphthous ulcers.



Aphthous ulcers, while not dangerous, can be a painful and uncomfortable experience for those who suffer from them. They can appear on the inside of the mouth, including the lips, cheeks, and tongue, and can be recurrent in some people. The exact cause of canker sores is unknown, but several factors, such as genetics, trauma, stress, and nutritional deficiencies, may contribute to their development. Treatment options include OTC pain relievers, topical treatments, oral rinses, and prescription medication. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent aphthous ulcers, steps such as avoiding triggers, maintaining good oral hygiene, managing stress, and eating a balanced diet can help reduce the risk of their development.

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