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Ever have it on the tip of your tongue - and wish you hadn't.

Whether on the tip of your tongue or elsewhere in your mouth, a canker sore is a real pain in the...mouth.

Aphthous stomatitis, as this little monster is scientifically called, seems to plague most of us at one time or another, although some people have much more of a problem with it than others. (That fancy name, by the way, is nothing but a cover-up for our ignorance of their cause--all it means is "score in the mouth"!)

A true canker sore, as compared to a cold sore, is located inside the mouth, on the edge or underside of the tongue, the roof of the mouth, or the cheek. It usually begins as a tiny blister or a painful red spot, which ulcerates in a day or two, exposing all those tiny nerve endings to everything that touches them--whether teeth or whatever we put in our mouths. Particularly agonizing is the effect of salt or acid in food.

Viruses, hormonal imbalance, allergy, stress, and trauma have all been implicated in the production of canker sores, of which the last, trauma, is most certainly a factor. Dental surgery or biting one's tongue or cheek while chewing often produces the typical canker sore ulcer.

Lesions resembling canker sores can be caused by herpes virus infection, as well as by diseases of autoimmune origin, in which antibodies feed off the organisms that produce them (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease).

Two rare skin diseases, lichen planus and pemphigus, may also produce sores very much like canker sores. Persons having frequently recurrent canker sores should therefore seek medical attention to rule out more serious problems.

As usual with conditions of unknown origin, the recommended treatments are as numerous as the suspected causes. Some are decidedly unorthodox, such as biting off the right fron paw of a mole. Cortisone cream, applied with a cotton swab, is a somewhat more acceptable approach that brings relief to some.

Substances applied inside the mouth are, of course, likely to be quickly washed away by saliva. Zalictan, an over-the-counter gel, is said to form a seal over the ulcer to protect it from saliva, so one might assume that it would also help to prolong the action of cortisone or other applied substances.

Although such treatment may relieve the pain and possibly shorten the duration of the ulcer (which normally lasts from several days to a week), cure awaits a better understanding of the causative factors.
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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