Acute Care: Injuries and Illnesses
Aphthous ulcers ("canker sores") are the most common oral irritation of
young adults. An aphthous ulcer is a shallow erosion with a yellow-white
center surrounded by a narrow, red ring. They are most often
oval-shaped, with a diameter of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Aphthous ulcers have no
blisters. They occur on the soft surfaces of the mouth such as the inner
cheeks, inner lips, soft areas of the roof and floor of the mouth,
tongue, gums, and pharynx (throat). There may be one or several aphthous
Twenty to sixty percent of the population have had aphthous ulcers at
some time in their lives. People most frequently get them between the
ages of 10 and 40 and they are often recurrent. Tingling or burning may
precede the lesions by 24 hours. The main "problem" caused by aphthous
ulcers is pain, which varies considerably among patients from slight to
severe. The acute painful phase lasts 3 to 4 days with complete healing
in 7 to 10 days. Aphthous ulcers heal without scaring.
No specific cause of aphthous ulcers has been identified. Mouth trauma,
local immune response, hormonal changes, certain foods, allergies,
vitamin deficiencies, physical and emotional stress, are possible
Aphthous ulcers are not cancerous or contagious. They are not the same
as "cold sores" which are caused by Herpes Simplex Virus.
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Since the cause for aphthous ulcers has not specifically been
identified, no cure has been found. Therapy is aimed at controlling
pain. Avoid salty spicy and citrus foods as these may cause
Treatment with ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help reduce the pain.
Applying ice to the ulcers or covering them with a protectant called
orabase can help control the pain of aphthous ulcers.
Occasionally it may be necessary to seek medical treatment with topical
anesthetics to reduce the pain or an antibiotic solution to prevent
If ulcers persist longer than 10 days or are unusually large (1/2 inch
or larger), they should be evaluated by a medical professional.
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