Imagine not being able to eat or talk properly because of a stinging or burning sensation inside your mouth. That’s what a singaw feels like, so if you’re frequently plagued with these, listen up. We asked Dr. Irene Achacoso-Porter, a dental practitioner with more than 30 years’ experience, to break down what a singaw or canker sore is and the different ways you can deal with it.
Cold sores vs. canker sores
Before we get into the nitty-gritty about canker sores, it should be made clear that cold sores and singaw are not the same thing.
Cold sores are caused by this teeny tiny virus called herpes simplex—and yes, it is basically the slightly less annoying sibling of genital herpes. The thing is, herpes simplex can also cause genital herpes, which means that genital herpes can also cause cold sores in your mouth. Either strain of herpes simplex is highly contagious, which is why you should get yourself checked if you’re seeing small blisters form around your mouth.
Canker sores aren’t as threatening as cold sores, but these still are annoying and painful, and certainly more mysterious in the sense that the exact cause is unknown. It’s also known as aphthous ulcers, and these appear as small, white or yellow lesions surrounded by redness in the lining of your mouth. While its origin story doesn’t exist, canker sores can be triggered by several factors.
What triggers singaw to form?
Putting too much pressure on yourself is already known to be unhealthy for several reasons, and now you can add canker sores to that list. Stress can take a toll on your immune system, which can make you more prone to infections.
If you’ve noticed a canker sore forming in your mouth after eating salty, sour, or spicy food, then that might mean you’re more sensitive to these than you think. “It’s not so much as being allergic, but it’s more like your body telling you that your oral mucosa (the lining of the mouth) is extra sensitive to these kinds of food,” says Dr. Porter.
Those who wear braces while neglecting to use wax or who put on ill-fitting mouth appliances (dentures, retainers, mouth guards) that abrasively rub against the oral mucosa can experience canker sores. “Think of it as getting kalyo on your feet after wearing new shoes after a long period,” explains Dr. Porter. “It’s a form of chafing in your mouth when you’re wearing braces without wax as a buffer to your cheek lining or dentures that aren’t the right size.”
Even biting your inner cheek, lip, or tongue; having a broken tooth grazing your mouth lining; or accidentally bumping your gums with your toothbrush while aggressively brushing your teeth can cause a singaw, too.
Weak immune system
Those who have poor or weakened immune systems are more vulnerable to developing canker sores. “There’s currently no specific correlation between your immunity and canker sores, but the idea that a compromised immune system cannot defend the body as efficiently as possible is satisfactory evidence for it to be considered a contributing factor,” Dr. Porter explains.
Underlying medical concerns
In relation to immunocompromised individuals, those who have gastrointestinal disease, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, or celiac disease are just some of those also frequently affected by canker sores. Those with nutritional deficiencies in vitamin B-12, folate, zinc, and iron, are also vulnerable in developing singaw.
Why are women more prone to canker sores?
“I’ve noticed some of my patients getting canker sores when they’re on or about to have their period,” Dr. Porter shares. This can be linked to the hormonal changes that occur before or during the menstruation cycle as the amount of progesterone increases, which can lead to the growth of canker sores and even bleeding gums.
How do you treat a singaw?
Typically, a singaw goes away in one to two weeks. “But if the canker sore persists after 14 days, or if you have a canker sore that isn’t painful, you should make an appointment with a dental professional,” advises Dr. Porter. “This could be a sign of malignancy.”
Milk of magnesia
More commonly used as a laxative, milk of magnesia contains a compound called magnesium hydroxide that helps neutralize acid. According to Dr. Porter, “As an alkaline, this soothes the affected area by changing the pH level in your mouth to prevent further irritation and desensitize the area, thus relieving pain.”
No need to hit the beach, just DIY a half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water, and you’re good to go. It should be noted that this is a relatively painful remedy, as it’s literally adding salt to your injury. On the plus side, this helps dry out sores and prevents these from worsening.
It may seem like the last thing you’d ever imagine gargling with, but the key is in diluting the solution. “Mix equal parts of three percent hydrogen peroxide and water (one teaspoon of each will do), then use a cotton swab to dab it onto the sore to clean it and reduce the bacteria surrounding it,” advises Dr. Porter.
Vitamin B-12 supplement
The link between vitamin B-12 preventing canker sores is still vague, but according to a 2017 study, participants who took vitamin B-12 supplements every day experienced a decrease in canker sore outbreaks and less pain, compared to those in the placebo group.
“Debacterol is a topically applied treatment that has anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects,” Dr. Porter explains, “which means that it helps alleviate pain and accelerate the healing process.” The ointment works by creating a protective film over the canker sore to seal the damaged area, promoting the growth of healthy tissue within three to five days.
Another drugstore remedy is Daktarin, an oral gel that helps cure canker sores, as well as other mouth sores caused by fungal infection. It contains miconazole, the active ingredient that destroys the fungi, while also providing pain relief after a few days.