Do I Have Canker Sores or Crohn’s Disease?

Do I Have Canker Sores or Crohn's Disease?

Canker sores and mouth ulcers caused by Crohn’s disease can look similar. But there are also significant differences.

Chronic diseases can sometimes affect your mouth. One such condition is Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease of the small intestine. Crohn’s disease symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and weight loss. Those with Crohn’s disease may also develop mouth sores like canker ones. If you see sores in your mouth, how do you know if they’re canker sores or a result of Crohn’s disease? 

While they look alike, mouth sores from Crohn’s disease are distinct from canker sores in several ways. And a canker sore doesn’t mean you have Crohn’s disease. Keep on reading to learn the differences. 

Crohn’s disease: The basics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 3.1 million adults, or 1.3 percent of the U.S. population, suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Doctors have yet to determine what causes Crohn’s disease, but it’s believed to be an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks bacteria in the digestive tract. During that process, healthy cells are targeted. The disease tends to run in families, too. 

Your digestive tract extends from your mouth to your rectum. Consequently, the inflammation linked to Crohn’s disease may reach your mouth, leading to sores. In addition, people with Crohn’s disease may be unable to take in sufficient nutrients, which can also lead to mouth sores that appear much like canker sores.

Canker sores: The basics

Canker sores, or aphthous ulcers, typically develop on the inside of the lips, cheeks, or bottom of the tongue. Benign and non-contagious, canker sores have a round or oval shape with a white or yellow center and a red border. They come in three general types:

Minor. Less than five millimeters in size, these canker sores rarely cause noticeable symptoms.

Major. Larger than five millimeters and deeper, major canker sores may have irregular borders and be painful.

Herpetiform. This type of canker sore forms when smaller sores cluster into a bigger, irregularly shaped ulcer. Note that the herpes virus does not cause herpetiform canker sores.

Canker sores vs. Crohn’s disease

So how do you tell the difference between a canker sore and a mouth ulcer due to Crohn’s disease? There are some important distinctions:

Time to heal. Canker sores typically will heal within two to three weeks. A Crohn’s disease mouth sore will persist much longer.

Accompanying symptoms. Although both types of sores can be painful, one caused by Crohn’s disease will be typically accompanied by stomach pain, fever, unexplained weight loss, and diarrhea. When in doubt, check with your doctor.

The triggers. Canker sores may be the result of an injury to the mouth. Acidic foods, such as pineapple and oranges, and sodium lauryl sulfate, an active ingredient in some toothpaste and mouthwash, can sometimes trigger canker sores. A diet lacking in certain vitamins, such as B-12, folate, and iron, may also cause canker sores. However, the same is true for Crohn’s disease. Again, consult your doctor if you are unsure.

Dealing with canker sores

Once you know it’s a canker sore and not another type of mouth lesion, you can speed the healing process and prevent a recurrence. Even though canker sores resolve in several weeks, these measures can relieve discomfort while you wait for the sore to heal:

Brush gently. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush, and don’t use toothpaste or mouthwash containing sodium lauryl sulfate. Rinse with a solution of warm water and salt.

Avoid food triggers. Limit your intake of foods that cause or worsen the sores. Eat a healthy, low-fat diet of fruits, vegetables, and fiber. Take folate, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, and zinc supplements if needed.

Medications. Your dentist can prescribe an oral steroid medication or a mouth rinse containing steroid dexamethasone. You can also buy an over-the-counter topical cream to reduce the pain.

Are mouth sores getting you down?

Schedule an appointment at Espire’s Mission Valley, California, location today! Our highly trained dentists can determine what’s causing your canker sores and make them go away. But if you suspect you have Crohn’s disease, consult your doctor for testing.

Don’t live near our Mission Valley, CA, office? Find one of our other locations near you.

Mission Valley, CA
8989 Rio San Diego Drive
Suite 170
San Diego, CA 92108