| 08/22/19

mouth sore

We’ve all been there.  You’ve got a sore in your mouth; it hurts, you can’t seem to stop biting it no matter how hard you try, and you’re not really sure what it is. Whenever I get them, all I know is that I want them to go away as fast as possible.

Is the white patch in my mouth simply a canker sore, or are you dealing with something more serious?

What We’re Dealing With

If you have a sore in your mouth, it most likely is a canker sore. Canker sores are either white or yellow with a bright red area surrounding them. In rare cases, you may even get a fever or swollen lymph nodes.

Unfortunately, they’re not particularly easy to avoid. They can appear as a reaction to the body’s weakened immune system, biting your cheek, a lack of vitamins, or even stress.

Canker sores may also run in your family, and women are more susceptible to them than men.

Where Do Canker Sores Come From?

Canker sores can happen to anyone, but are most common in pre-teen and teenagers. Sometimes oral health is affected by more systemic issues such as vitamin deficiencies. B-12 deficiency is a common cause of recurring canker sores and can easily be bought over the counter.  Other studies have shown that low levels of folic acid, zinc and iron can also trigger sores.

Sometimes mouth sores are developed by brushing our teeth too hard! A common cause of white sores could be any stress or injury to that area of the mouth. These could include poorly fitting dentures, braces, or even brushing too hard.

Many high acid citrus fruits can also cause or make canker sores worse.  If you develop a canker sore you should try to avoid fruits that are high in acid.

How Do I Make It Go Away?!

Typically, canker sores take one to three weeks to heal. You can expect a canker sore’s pain to decrease after a couple days and the rest of the symptoms to disappear shortly after.

Over the counter meds, like Advil or Orajel help manage pain and you can also rinse your mouth with either mild mouthwash or salt water to ease the pain and hurry the process along.

You should also avoid any spicy or acidic foods, as they can aggravate the sore.

When a Sore is More Than a Sore

While most sores are just cankers, there is the chance of something more serious, like oral cancer.

An important distinction between a canker sore and mouth cancer is that a canker sore usually is concave and looks like an ulcer. On the other hand, a patch demonstrating abnormal cell growth, indicating cancer, is usually flat.

Mouth cancer can appear anywhere on the soft tissue in your mouth, including the tongue, lips, cheeks, and gums. Cancer can even appear on the tonsils or in the salivary glands.  

If you’ve had a sore in your mouth that either doesn’t go away, or gets worse after more than two weeks of home treatment, something may be amiss. 

When It’s Time to Call The Doc

While most canker sores are harmless, there can be cause to call in a medical professional.

Contact us at Herrick if you develop symptoms including:

  • Large or recurring sores
  • Sores that won’t go away after several weeks
  • Unusual pain that can’t be handled via home remedies/over the counter drugs
  • Sores that extend from the gums or tongue to the lips
  • Thickening of the skin on a white patch
  • Pain when swallowing


While it’s easy to get sucked into worst-case scenarios when dealing with a medical issue, it’s important to know that canker sores are common, and easily treatable.

Men over the age of 40 who use tobacco products are the most likely to develop oral cancer. The odds are in your favor that you’ll be just fine, and if things do seem out of the ordinary, you’re now trained to identify the signs that something could be wrong.

So, next time you find yourself with a troublesome white spot that’s causing irritating pain, snag some salt water and soldier through. You ought to get through it in just a few short (though they may feel long) days. Schedule a routine exam where one of our dentists can perform a routine oral cancer screening.


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