They go by several names. Canker sores, mouth ulcers, and a number of 4-letter words that I won't list here.
Whatever you call them, if you get canker sores, you know the true meaning of pain. They hurt. They keep you from eating normally and even talking like a human being. They're embarrassing and gross, and the subject of ridicule. And very misunderstood.
They're also common in 20% of the population. That's one out of 5 people. So you're not alone, far from it. In fact, if you're a teen, you're more likely to get canker sores than any other segment of the population. But why is that? Why have teens been selected to be especially targeted by this most disgusting of modern plagues?
Well, there are a lot of reasons. One is the same reason your face is breaking out and hair is growing in all kinds of unmentionable places. The teen years are a time of extreme change in the human body, and hormones are swirling around like clouds in a hurricane. These same hormones can wreck havoc in several bodily systems, including your immune system, a malfunction of which is responsible for Recurrent Aphthous Stomatitis - which is a fancy word for recurring canker sores - also known as RAS. This is why you often get canker sores when you get sick and run-down.
Another reason canker sores are so prevalent in teens is dental braces. Braces are worn by teens and preteens far more than any other age group, and as anybody who's had braces can tell you, they are not kind to the inside of your mouth. And all those cuts and scratches can easily lead to a canker sore.
And, teens tend to gravitate more toward sweet and salty snacks than other demographics, and these foods tend to scratch and dry the mouth more than other foods.
So it's a bit of a perfect storm in your mouth that's led to you sometimes wishing you could cut your lips or tongue off. But it's not all bad news.
For one thing, it's not herpes. That's one of those terrible misconceptions we talked about earlier, and if you get canker sores, there's a good chance somebody's told you you have it. Might have even been someone you thought was really smart.
Well, they may still be smart. But they're wrong about this.
Canker sores have nothing to do with herpes. Many people confuse canker sores with cold sores, which are related to herpes. But cold sores only form around the lips, and never inside the mouth. And cold sores begin as fluid-filled blisters that then scab over, and canker sores don't.
So now that you know what it is and what it isn't, let's get to the real question - what can you do about it?
Well, there's a lot of things. But let's focus on three options - preventing them, surviving them, and healing them.
How to Prevent Canker Sores for teens.
1. Don't get sick.
I know, that one sounds pretty obvious - it's not like you're out trying to get sick normally. But illness kicks the immune system into gear and that's what brings about the vast majority of canker sores. So eat well, get some sleep, de-stress, wash your hands, and overall don't be gross.
2. Avoid SLS toothpaste.
SLS stands for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. It's a chemical found in most toothpastes that helps clean the teeth, but it can also react negatively in some people, causing drying of the mouth and tiny cracks that can lead to canker sores. This isn't true in a lot of people, but it does cause a problem in some. It's worth a shot to see if it helps you. Just look for toothpastes that promote being SLS-free.
3. Take some pills.
There are several supplements that have been known to help prevent canker sores. Here are some of the most heavily researched:
4. Avoid food triggers.
Some foods that trigger canker sores include salty snacks, acidic foods and drinks like orange juice, and sharp, crumbly foods like potato chips. Some people find that spicy foods bring it on as well. But you really like pineapples, you say? That's fine, just know you're running a risk of a breakout.
5. Cover up those braces.