Cold sores may be more visible, but canker sores are often more disruptive; they can cause so much pain that your ability to eat or even talk is affected. These mouth sores, also known as aphthous ulcers, are more common in women and those with a family history. If you're experiencing reoccurring episodes of canker sores, you may have a vitamin deficiency requiring treatment from a physician.
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Understanding Canker Sores
Canker sores affect the inside of your mouth and may develop on the tongue, gums or on the inside of your cheeks or lips. They do not form outwardly on the lips as cold sores, which are also known as fever blisters, do. Canker sores vary in size, with most being under half an inch in diameter, according to Mayo Clinic. They typically have a yellow or white center and are quite bothersome, making mouth use a challenge. Several factors contribute to your likelihood of having canker sores, such as immune dysfunction, stress, bacteria and mouth injuries.
Having a vitamin deficiency may also put you at risk for canker sores, particularly if you're lacking in certain B vitamins. These include niacin, also known as vitamin B3; folic acid or vitamin B9; and vitamin B12. Niacin plays a role in many bodily functions and is needed to keep your skin healthy, produce hormones, break down food and support the nervous system. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that a mild deficiency causes canker sores. Both folic acid and vitamin B12 are instrumental to blood cell production and a lack of them may increase canker sore risk, according to Dr. Kathleen Rourke, RN, RD, CHES. Rourke also points out that vitamin deficiencies may signal poor nutrition, which can compromise your immune system.
Signs of Deficiencies
In addition to canker sores, deficiencies in both niacin and folic acid can further affect the mouth, causing inflammation of the mouth or tongue. Folic acid may also contribute to gingivitis, or gum inflammation. A lack of both of these vitamins can cause gastrointestinal distress and affect your mental state as well. If you have problems with balance, feel weak or have tingling in the limbs, a deficiency in vitamin B12 is possible.
Minor canker sores that happen occasionally typically do not require medical intervention. Avoiding irritants, such as spicy foods, may help you manage pain. If your sores are the result of vitamin deficiencies, however, you likely are having reoccurring episodes. Your physician may prescribe treatments to help the acute attack, but you'll also need to undergo testing to check your levels of the B vitamins. Supplementation, if needed, can help reduce development of these sores . Always follow your physician's guidelines for nutritional supplements as you could cause other health problems if you take on deficiencies on your own.
- Mayo Clinic; Canker Sore; April 2011
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
- NetWellness; Canker Sores and Nutrition - Dietitian's View; Kathleen Rourke, PhD, RN, RD, CHES; June 1998
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B12