Canker Sore After Wisdom Teeth Removal? Why and How to Treat it

The removal of your wisdom teeth, also known as the third molars, is a common dental procedure that many young adults undergo each year. Having your wisdom teeth removed can be a painful and tedious experience. After the procedure, it is normal for some to experience pain, swelling, and tenderness in the surgical site.

However, some may develop canker sores after the surgery. These small, painful lesions can be a source of frustration for those who are already dealing with the pain and swelling that comes with the removal of their third molars.

In the rest of this article, we will explore the causes of canker sores as well as offer some tips on managing the pain and discomfort associated with the condition. Whether you are planning to have your wisdom teeth removed or are already in the recovery period, this article will provide you with all the information you need to get smiling wide again!

What is Canker Sore?

Canker sore, known medically as aphthous ulcer, is a small and painful sore that develops on the inside of the mouth. These sores are typically circular or oval-shaped and have a white or yellow center with a red border. They are usually very small (approximately 2 milimeter) but can grow as much as 1 inch in diameter.

Canker sore can appear almost anywhere in the mouth, including the gums, tongue, cheeks, or lips. However, unlike cold sores, canker sores are not contagious at all.

According to MedicalNewsToday, as much as 20% of the global population get canker sore at least once in their life. In spite of their prevalence, little is known about the cause of it. However, researchers suggest that canker sores are primarily due to a weakened immune system. Some causes include:

  • Stress,
  • Hormonal change
  • Spicy, salty, or citrus food
  • Food allergies
  • Poor nutrition
  • A deficiency in iron and/or vitamin B-12
  • Early stage of oral cancer
  • Smoking
  • Trauma to the mouth

As such, people who had their wisdom teeth removed are at a higher chance of developing canker sore due to the stress and laceration that the surgery has caused. During the onset of the sore, patients will experience significant discomfort and pain, making it difficult to eat or speak.

Types of Canker Sore

There are several types of canker sore and it is important to know what type you are suffering from in order to apply the right treatment.

Minor canker sore is the most common type of canker sore and are usually small and round. They typically appear on the inside of the lips and cheeks but heal within a week or two without needing any medical treatment.

On the other hand, major canker sore are larger and deeper and take up to 4 weeks to heal. They are more painful than minor canker sore and are less defined due to its size. Major canker sores can appear on the soft palate or tonsils and may require medical treatment, such as prescription medications or topical ointments. In may cases, the sore can leave a scaring after healing.

Herpetiform canker sores are the least common and most painful type of sore as they appear in a cluster of small sores to form one large sore. Similar to minor canker sore, they appear on the inside of the lips and cheeks and take up to two weeks to heal. In spite of its name, herpetiform canker sore are not caused by the herpes virus infection.

Illustration of herpetiform canker sore | Source: Scientific Animations

Canker Sore vs Cold Sores

Canker sores and cold sores are two different types of sores that can appear in or around the mouth. Here are the main differences between the two

  1. Cause: Canker sores are not contagious and are not caused by a virus. Cold sores, on the other hand, are caused by the herpes simplex virus and are highly contagious.
  2. Appearance: Canker sores are small, round with a red border. Cold sore are fluid-filled blisters that can be itchy and painful to the touch. Cold sore can appear on the nose, chin or cheeks whereas canker sores are only found on the inside of the mouth
  3. Contagiousness: Canker sores are not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person. Cold sores, on the other hand, are highly contagious and can be spread through close contact, such as kissing or sharing utensils or towels.
  4. Treatment: Canker sores usually heal on their own within a week or two. However, cold sores must be treated with antiviral medications to help reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of the outbreak. Due to its contagious nature, people who suffer from cold sore must start treatment as soon as possible to prevent spreading it.
Canker Sore (left) vs Cold Sore (right) | Source: Luminance Red website

How to Treat Canker Sores?

Canker sores can be painful and uncomfortable, but fortunately, there are several methods to relieve the pain and accelerate the healing process.

  1. Rinse your mouth with saltwater: Mix one teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water and swish the solution around your mouth for 30 seconds before spitting it out. This isotonic solution helps to kill any bacteria and accelerate the healing of your tissue.
  2. Take over-the-counter pain relievers: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help to manage pain and reduce the inflammation.
  3. Apply topical treatments on the sore: Over-the-counter topical treatments such as benzocaine or numbing gels can provide instant pain relief and help the sore to heal faster. Apply the treatment directly to the canker sore using a cotton swab. Do not use your finger as you may risk infecting the sore if your fingers are unclean.
  4. Apply a damp tea bag to the sore: This natural remedy involves damping a new or used tea bag with warm water and applying it directly on the sore for a few minutes. Tea contains tannins, which have anti-inflammatory properties and can help to soothe the sore.
  5. Cautery. This painful process involves the use of an instrument or chemical substance to cauterize (burn) the canker sore. This destroys the damaged tissue and reduces the healing time to a matter of days. This procedure should only be done by a medical professional as it can worsen the sore if improperly administered.

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On top of treating the canker sore, you should avoid worsening the sore. During the recovery period, avoid hot or spicy food as it can worsen the sore as well as your swollen gums. Instead, stick to soft, bland foods like yogurt, mashed potatoes, or smoothies until the sore has healed. This is also recommended after your wisdom teeth removal surgery to prevent irritating your surgical site.

If the sores do not heal within a month or you experience other symptoms such as fever or swollen glands, it may be signs of something serious. Notify your dentist or oral surgeon immediately and schedule a dental appointment. The dental professional will be able to assess the current state of your canker sores and recommend the appropriate treatment plans to heal the sore.