Types of Canker Sores

Canker sores are also known as aphthous ulcers-and whatever you call them, they hurt. These little sores appear on the inside of your mouth and have a red border with a white or yellow center. They are not the same thing as a cold sore, which is the type of sore that shows up on your lip. Canker sores are usually painful, and they can sometimes affect your ability to eat. Discovering the types of canker sores helps you take the first step toward healing.

There is more than one type of canker sore, but they all share common characteristics, including how they look and a prodromal burning, which is a tingling sensation that occurs before they appear. And, of course, they're all uncomfortable. A canker sore is not associated with the herpes virus, as is the case with cold sores. Canker sores are also not contagious and they usually heal on their own. The three basic types of canker sores are:

  • Minor canker sores. These are the most common types of canker sores, the Mayo Clinic states. Minor canker sores are usually small and oval in appearance. These sores generally heal by themselves in one to two weeks and do not cause any scarring or cosmetic damage. About 80 percent of canker sores are this type, according to the American Academy of Oral Medicine.

  • Major canker sores. These sores are larger and go deeper into the tissue than the minor type of canker sore. Major canker sores are also oval in shape, and they have irregular edges. They affect up to 15 percent of sufferers and may also take longer to heal-sometimes up to six weeks. These sores are more likely to cause extensive scarring.

  • Herpetiform canker sores. This type of canker sore usually develops later in a person's life and isn't as common as the other types, affecting only 5 percent of people. These sores are usually very tiny, like a pinpoint, but they form in clusters of up to 100 sores at one time. This type of canker sore appears irregular with blotchy edges. These sores do not leave a scar once they've healed, which is usually within one to two weeks.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor

If you are unsure what caused your canker sores or how to properly care for yourself, visit your doctor. You should be examined if the sores become very large or if the pain becomes intolerable; if the sores make it hard to eat, drink or speak; if you have a fever that accompanies the canker sore; or if the sores keep coming back or do not seem to heal. Your doctor can help you discover what triggers your canker sores-whether allergic reactions, vitamin deficiencies, certain conditions or diseases-and how you can avoid those triggers in the future.

Check with your dentist, too. A rough edge on a tooth, a chipped tooth with sharp edges or an infection in the gum can all initiate canker-type sores.

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