Canker Sore on Gums – Symptoms, Treatment Options & Prevention

A canker sore, also known as aphthous ulcers, is a type of oral infection. Canker sore on gums appears as a small and shallow lesion. Unlike cold sores, canker sores don’t occur on the surface of our lips, and they aren’t contagious at all. However, they can be painful at times and can make it difficult to eat and speak.

Canker sore on gums heal on its own in a week or so. But if the ulcer doesn’t subside on its own within a week time, then you may have to consult your dentist or doctor.


There are many types of ulcers. Some of them which are found in the mouth are harmless, like the canker sores, whereas some may persist long enough as a premalignant lesion.

Premalignant lesions are cancer inducing sores in the mouth. Canker sore on gums could be of three types as minor, major, and herpetiform. They differ primarily in their sizes and numbers.

The best way to deal with a canker sore is to get enough nutrition and proper rest as most aphthous ulcers are stress related.

What are canker sores?

Canker sores are round or oval in appearance. They are white or yellow in the center and have a red border. Canker sore on gums is common but it can also form under the tongue or inside of the cheeks.

Other places are under lips on the soft palate. You might notice a burning sensation a day or two before the sores appear.

The canker sores are often mistaken for cold sores. But the significant difference between them is that cold sores often occur outside the mouth. Canker sores always occur inside the mouth and are way smaller than cold sores.

Dealing with a canker sore is simple and requires little or no medical intervention. (1)

Types and symptoms of a canker sore

There are three types of canker sores such as minor, major and herpetiform sores.

Minor canker sores

Minor canker sores are known to be the most common type. They –

  • are usually small in size
  • oval shaped with a red edge
  • heal within one week time

Major canker sores

Major canker sores are less frequent than minor sores and they –

  • Are more extensive and deeper than minor sores
  • Are rounder with well-defined borders, but may have irregular edges when they are very large
  • Can be very painful
  • May take six weeks or more to heal

Herpetiform canker sores

Herpetiform canker sores are uncommon and usually develop later in life. Unlike cold sores, herpes virus infection does not cause herpetiform canker sores. These canker sores –

  • often occur in clusters of about 100 sores, but may merge into one large ulcer
  • have irregular edges
  • heal without scar formation in one to two weeks

Causes for a canker sore on gums

Before we know how to prevent a canker sore on gums, it is essential to know the root cause. Your risk for developing canker sores increases, if you have a family history of canker sores. The following are the most probable causes of a canker sore. (3)

  • Viral Infection
  • Stress
  • Hormonal Fluctuation (during pregnancy)
  • Food Allergy
  • Menstrual Cycle
  • Vitamin Or Mineral Deficiency
  • Immune System Problem
  • Mouth Injury

How to get rid of canker sores?

Canker sore on gums can be managed well by conventional therapy which includes complete oral disinfection and managing the symptoms.

Most canker sores occur as a result of stress, lack of sleep and improper diet. So, getting a lifestyle change can help get rid of the canker sores for good. (2)

Conventional treatment

Treatment usually isn’t necessary for minor canker sores because they self-heal in a few weeks without any scar formation. But large and persistent sores can be unusually painful and often need medical care. Some treatment options exist which are –

Mouth Rinses

If you suffer from frequent aphthous ulcers which tend to be painful, your dentist may prescribe you a mouth rinse consisting of Dexamethasone or Lignocaine.

These medications are known to have an anesthetic effect on the sores and pain is reduced immediately after first use.

Topical products

The following over the counter drugs are most commonly prescribed when dealing with a canker sore on gums –

  • Benzocaine gel
  • Fluocinonide
  • Hydrogen peroxide

There are many other topical products for canker sores, but you should consult your dentist before using these.

Oral medications

Oral medications may be helpful when canker sore on gums is severe or does not respond to topical treatments.

  • Sucralfate- a generalized ulcer medication which coats the ulcer, healing it internally.
  • Oral steroid medications when all other medication fails.

Cautery of sores

Cautery is an electrical/chemical aid used to burn or destroy tissue. Debacterol is a chemical cautery designed to treat canker sores and gum problems. This medication may reduce healing time to about a week.

Silver nitrate is another option for chemical cautery of canker sores but hasn’t been shown to speed healing. Although, it may help to relieve canker sore pain.

Natural home remedies

Home remedies

To help relieve the pain and speed healing, consider the following-

  • Rinse your mouth using salt in lukewarm water
  • Dab a little milk of magnesia (alkaline solution) on the canker sore a few times in a day
  • Avoid acidic or spicy foods that can cause further irritation and pain
  • Apply ice cubes to your canker sores by allowing ice chips to dissolve over the sores slowly
  • Brush your teeth gently, using a soft bristle brush

Nutritional supplements

A deficiency of folic acid and vitamin B complex are known to cause a canker sore on gums. So, a supplement containing these nutrients is often prescribed to heal canker sores.

Lifestyle change and treating underlying health issues

Canker sores are known to occur due to stress and lack of sleep. So, getting a full night of sleep and reducing stress can be a significant lifestyle change that can positively affect canker sores.

If your canker sores are related to an underlying health issue, your doctor may have to treat it even before canker sores.

When to consult a doctor?

Canker sore on gums usually heals on its own. However, you may have to consult your dentist if you experience one or more of the following –

  • Unusually large canker sores
  • Recurring sores, with new ones developing before old ones heal, or frequent outbreaks
  • Persistent sores, lasting two weeks or more
  • Sores that extend into the lips
  • Pain that you can’t control with self-care measures
  • Extreme difficulty eating or drinking
  • High fever along with canker sores

Preventing a canker sore

It is very easy to avoid the occurrence of a canker sore on gums, unless it is hereditary.

  • Avoid foods that may have previously triggered the outbreak of sores. Including spicy, salty, or acidic foods.
  • If a canker sore pops up due to stress, use stress reduction methods and calming techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, and proper sleep.
  • Practice good oral health and use a soft toothbrush to avoid irritating your gums further.
  • Talk to your dentist to determine if you have any specific vitamin or mineral deficiencies. They can help design a suitable diet plan and supplements to get you covered.

Final words on canker sore on gums

Canker sore on gums is the most common type of oral ulcers that you can encounter. However, it has no major complications. Mostly, it heals within a few weeks’ time, without leaving any scars.


But it is vital to be able to distinguish between a potentially harmless canker sore and a more serious pre-malignant sore. So, if your ulcer doesn’t heal within two to three weeks, consult a dentist or doctor.

Frequent occurrence of mouth sores can be a signal of a serious internal health issue. So, do not ignore them and go for proper treatment.

Dealing with a canker sore is simple. Eat right, sleep well and maintain good oral hygiene by brushing twice daily. Using an antibacterial mouthwash also reduces the incidence of canker sore on gums.


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