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What Are Canker Sores?

Story at-a-glance

  • Canker sores are small and shallow lesions that develop in the soft tissues of your mouth or at the base of your gums
  • Canker sores often begin as small and reddish swellings that then burst and become covered with a white or yellow membrane

Canker sores refer to small and shallow lesions that appear either in your mouth’s soft tissues or in the area underneath your gums. These sores actually go by many names, such as aphthous ulcers1 or recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS).2 However, despite their small size, canker sores can be very painful and could lead to eating and/or talking difficulties.

When Are People Most Prone to Have Canker Sores?

Unfortunately, no one knows exactly when canker sores will affect you. These lesions do not pick an age, so anyone can develop canker sores — even children as young as 2 years old may have them.3 However, they tend to occur most often among teens and young adults. In fact, peak incidence of canker sores is recorded during these stages.4

Canker sores are more common in women compared to men,5 and may occur more among Caucasians, nonsmokers and people with high socioeconomic status.6

Canker Sores Versus Cold Sores

While some people may think that that these two types of sores are similar to each other, this isn’t the case. Take note of these distinct differences between canker sores and cold sores:7

Canker SoresCold Sores
  • The sores are found inside the mouth.
  • These appear small and red at first, and then erupt and become covered with a white or yellow film.8
  • Canker sores are typically white or yellow9 and surrounded by red and inflamed soft tissue.10
  • These aren’t caused by the herpes virus, but instead may develop due to heredity, factors in the environment like food or allergens, minor mouth injuries or emotional stress, to name a few.11
  • Canker sores aren’t contagious.
  • The sores are most noticeable on the lips, but they can appear on the cheeks, nose or, rarely, in the eyes.12
  • Cold sores first begin as a blister, rupture and then turn into a sore.13
  • Cold sores are filled with fluid and form into a cluster or patch.14
  • They are caused by either herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) or herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2) virus.15
  • Cold sores are very contagious and can be transferred from one person to another via close contact.16

MORE ABOUT CANKER SORES

Canker Sore: Introduction

What Is a Canker Sore?

Canker Sore Causes

Canker Sore Types

Canker Sore Symptoms

Canker Sore Treatment

How to Get Rid of Canker Sores

Canker Sore Prevention

Canker Sore Diet

Canker Sore FAQ



[+] Sources and References [-] Sources and References

  • 1, 11 Mayo Clinic, April 3, 2018
  • 2 The American Academy of Oral Medicine, December 31, 2007
  • 3 Medical News Today, June 9, 2017
  • 4, 6, 7 EMedicineHealth, November 20, 2017
  • 5 MedlinePlus, April 3, 2017
  • 8 Encyclopedia, “Canker Sores”
  • 9 MedicineNet, November 7, 2017
  • 10, 12 University Health Service University of Michigan, “Is It a Cold Sore or a Canker Sore?”
  • 13 WebMD, September 21, 2017
  • 14, 16 Mayo Clinic, June 8, 2018
  • 15 Medical News Today, May 19, 2017
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