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  • Dr. Jason Rountree

Quick Relief from Canker Sore Pain

Today we're going to be taking a little bit of a break from some of the more serious health topics that we often talk about here on the blog, and I'll be addressing a condition that is more of an annoyance. And that is canker sores. Canker sores are the little white shallow sores that can occur inside the mouth. They're painful, it can hurt to talk or swallow, and makes people a little more hesitant to eat anything spicy or acidic. Technically this is called "aphthous stomatitis."

What is a canker sore?

These aren't cold sores that can occur out on the lips and are a viral infection. This is a simple sore that is very common and doesn't stick around very long. They are pretty quick to resolve. If you get one it's an annoyance, but if you get several it's really unpleasant. And you know that in a few days it'll get better. It'll close up and heal up. But it can definitely be annoying. And when this happens in children, it can be a little more than annoying. It can be something that affects their day-to-day routines for eating breakfast, talking to their teachers in school, dealing with friends, and it simply adds to their stress load. And I tell you what, our kids have had a rough year. It's been difficult to be consistent with the school schedule for most of our kids, they've either been in and out of school or they've been doing online school the whole time. They've had quarantines. It's been a stressful time. And if you add in several days of canker sores on top of that, especially when it recurs (and maybe this is happening every month), it just adds to the burden that our kids are already dealing with.

What causes canker sores?

And speaking of stress, stress is actually a trigger to the sores. There are other factors, too, like immune system problems, genetics, food allergens, nutritional deficiencies, and hormone changes. You can see that our kids are probably having a worse year than usual for these triggers.

There's plenty of evidence already that red light can really do a lot for pain reduction and superficial healing. So what these researchers did in this study is take red light and apply it to canker sores to see if they could get them better, faster. I'll go ahead and give you the title of the study. It's called "Photobiomodulation therapy for the management of recurrent aphthous stomatitis in children: clinical effectiveness and parental satisfaction." So, if I can just break that down for you. It’s light therapy for recurring canker sores; does it work and are parents okay with it? Because that's a factor, right? Parents need to be ok with their children's treatments and appointments if this is going to be successful. If you're a parent, you want to make sure that you're not having to run to 15 different appointments four days a week, or doing some crazy nutrition regimen, or having to take a whole bunch of medications. I mean, most of us don't want our kids to be on medications.

And that is one of the options if this recurrent canker sore problem keeps going. There are medications to modulate the immune system in a fairly negative way to try and prevent these attacks from coming on. There are also mouthwashes and herbs and several other treatments. But the researchers' idea was that maybe we can just use light therapy to help control this without it being a burden to the parents and still being good and beneficial and without side effects for the kids.

Just three laser treatments!

What the researchers did is they took kids that were having this recurrent canker sore problem, and they just did about 30 seconds of red laser at a very low power on each site that was irritated inside the mouth. And they did that for three days in a row. And then they checked the kids at day four and day 10, and saw that all the kids who got laser were getting less pain and quicker resolution of those sores. And at the same time, they also ran a sham group (a group that got a fake laser) and the device would turn on and it would make the right noises, but it wasn't actually delivering any light to those sores.

Then they were able to compare the group that got the laser versus the group that only thought they were getting the laser, and they saw a big difference. The group that actually got laser had much better pain relief, and much quicker healing compared to the group that didn't. So just three days in a row of a couple minutes’ of treatment really made a big difference. And the researchers in this study even said the parents accepted the procedure well, and "didn't complain of any problems regarding the time spent for multiple appointments." They say "this is probably due to the fact that the parents of children with canker sores consider these debilitating lesions deserving of any attempt to alleviate symptoms."

Basically, "anything you can do doc, to help my kid feel better, let's do it." Especially if we're talking about laser therapy, laser therapy doesn't have any side effects or real risks to treatment here. So, when you compare utilizing this low power, visible red laser to help reduce the pain and irritation, when you compare that to immune modulating drugs and mouthwashes that have to be done four times a day, mucosal barrier gel, or topical steroids, there's all kinds of things that are way more difficult for parents to deal with than just a few brief short appointments to get some laser therapy done inside the mouth which is totally safe.

And I'll tell you, I've seen this for years now in practice so it's nice to see research coming out. This study just came out just this year. As a matter of fact, we had a kid just earlier this year that was getting yearly episodes of canker sores. And we're not just talking a couple, we're talking about 10 or 12 or 15 at a time in the mouth. And it made eating just so miserable. And it added to her stress of daily life. She was 13 and having to deal with school and friends and all these things, and then having these sores on top of it, it was just really kind of overwhelming for her, so to be able to treat those sores and have them almost immediately be painless and then to close up and heal much quicker, just a few treatments, made a huge difference for her. Also, being able to know that next time an episode happens, she can come in, get a couple of treatments and know that she's going to feel better quickly made her happy. That made her parents happier as well.

Kalispell Laser Therapy

So, laser therapy, doesn't always have to be for these extremely serious conditions like arthritic knees and neuropathy and stroke and addiction. Sometimes just being able to get some quick and effective pain relief for these less serious self-limiting disorders can be absolutely worth it. I highly encourage you if you've dealt with this yourself, or if your kids are dealing with this, look into getting a no-charge consultation here at our Kalispell clinic.


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