Ear, Nose and Throat

Ten remedies for canker sores

Canker sores can be painful and irritating. While they should heal on their own within a week, there are ways to speed up this process and reduce the discomfort.

As well as over-the-counter medications, there are some home remedies that can ease the discomfort of canker sores and help them to heal. Read on to discover 10 tried and tested ways to get rid of these ulcers.

What is a canker sore?

Woman pushing her upper lip to reveal canker sore, or mouth ulcer.
Canker sores may appear inside the lips or cheeks, and are usually round and white in appearance.

A canker sore is a small ulcer inside the mouth. It may appear white or grey with red edges. Canker sores usually appear on the soft parts of the mouth, such as the tongue, inside of the cheeks, and just inside the lips.

The medical term for canker sores is recurrent aphthous stomatitis or RAS, and these ulcers will reappear again and again over time.

Canker sores are not contagious and usually heal on their own in around a week. They are less than 1 centimeter in diameter and can appear alone or in a cluster.

A rarer and more severe form of RAS causes larger ulcers that may last for 2 weeks or more and can cause scarring.


Ten ways to get rid of canker sores

Canker sores should heal on their own, but there are ways to relieve pain, speed up healing, and prevent infection. These include:

1. Over-the-counter gel or patch

Applying topical, over-the-counter medication, usually in the form of a gel or paste, directly to the canker sore. This prevents the ulcer from being irritated by spicy or acidic food, or by being touched.

Special patches or bandages can be placed over the canker sore. These are designed to stick to the inside of the mouth and will protect the ulcer from irritation.

2. Using a mouth rinse

Rinsing the mouth with an over-the-counter rinse to clean the area and provide relief from pain or discomfort.

A person should choose a mouth rinse that has antiseptic properties to prevent infection and to numb the inside of the mouth.

3. Using a salt rinse

People may also choose to use a natural alternative, such as a salt solution, to promote healing. Rinsing the mouth with a salt solution should not replace using a medicated mouthwash if needed.

4. Practicing dental hygiene with a soft brush

Looking after the mouth and being careful not to damage canker sores can speed up the healing process.

Using a soft toothbrush can help avoid irritating canker sores. Maintaining good oral hygiene by keeping teeth and gums clean can prevent ulcers from becoming infected.

5. Taking vitamin B-12 supplements

Vitamin B-12 supports normal functioning of the brain and nervous system and has an important part to play in the creation of red blood cells.

A small study found that taking a vitamin B-12 supplement reduced the amount of pain from the canker sores, the number of outbreaks, and the number of ulcers experienced in a month.

6. Drinking chamomile tea with honey

A mug of chamomile herbal tea, surrounded by chamomile plants and flowers.
Chamomile tea mixed with honey may act as an antiseptic, helping to ease canker sore symptoms, including pain.

Chamomile and honey have been used historically for a variety of health reasons, and have been reported to help heal canker sores by reducing pain and inflammation.

There is limited scientific evidence of their benefits in treating ulcers, so they should not be used in place of medication.

Honey may have antiseptic properties and can be applied directly to a canker sore. It can also be combined with chamomile in a tea, which should be left to cool slightly before drinking.

Chamomile may have anti-inflammatory properties. A person can use chamomile as a canker sore remedy, by brewing a strong chamomile tea and using it to rinse the mouth once it has cooled. They can also soak a chamomile tea bag in warm water and apply directly to the ulcer.

7. Avoiding certain foods

A person should avoid very spicy, salty, or acidic food, which can irritate canker sores and stop them from healing.

Even hot drinks and food with rough edges, such as a piece of toast, might cause discomfort.

8. Using aloe vera

Applying aloe vera gel directly to the canker sore may help to soothe irritation, as well as reduce pain and inflammation.

Although there is limited scientific evidence on the benefits of aloe vera for canker sores, it is considered safe for use by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

9. Numbing the mouth

A person can suck on ice chips and then apply them to a canker sore to relieve some pain and discomfort, as the cold will numb the feeling. The ice cube should not be applied directly to an ulcer without melting the surface slightly first.

10. Making a clove oil rinse

Clove oil has been used historically to relieve pain. A person can use clove oil as a remedy by rinsing the mouth first with a sea salt solution or mouthwash, then applying cotton wool soaked in clove oil to the canker sore to numb the pain.

Causes

Single mouth ulcers can develop when someone damages the inside of their mouth, such as by biting it accidentally or having a poorly fitting denture.

Canker sores are different because they happen repeatedly and may not always have a clear cause.

Some people get canker sores often, while others do not get them at all. Risk factors for recurrent canker sores may include a weakened immune system, stress, or an allergy to a certain food.

The American Academy of Oral Medicine recommend that someone with recurrent canker sores should keep a record of when they happen and any possible triggers. This may help to pinpoint whether there are links between an outbreak of canker sores and diet or lifestyle.

In some cases, canker sores can be the result of a viral infection or long-term condition, such as Crohn’s disease, a vitamin deficiency, or hormonal changes.


When to see a doctor

Dentist inspecting patient's teeth and mouth.
Canker sores will usually not require treatment.

Canker sores will go away without treatment and are not usually a sign of anything serious. A person should see a doctor if the sores last for more than 3 weeks, are causing difficulty with swallowing, or if the person is ill.

If canker sores happen regularly over a long time, it is a good idea to consult a medical professional. It may be helpful to bring a record of when the canker sores developed and any potential triggers, such as spicy foods.

In some cases, canker sores can be a sign of an underlying condition, including gastrointestinal diseases. If someone has any of the following symptoms, they should talk to a doctor:

  • unexplained tiredness for more than a few days
  • a rash or sore on another part of the body
  • a fever
  • irritated eyes
  • stomach pain

If canker sores become particularly red and painful, this could be a sign of infection.

Takeaway

Canker sores can be painful and irritating, especially if they happen often. Keeping track of when they happen and any possible triggers may help someone to work out if there is an underlying cause that can be avoided.

In the meantime, a person can try a variety of home remedies and over-the-counter solutions to ease pain and discomfort.

Keeping over-the-counter medication on hand and some natural remedies in the cupboard means that ulcers and canker sores can be tackled as soon as they appear.

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