Canker sores, which are medically known as aphthous ulcers, are small lesions that appear on the inside of the mouth, cheeks, or lips. They can be extremely annoying and can significantly interfere with the pleasures of eating and drinking.
In truth, many people are not clear what exactly a canker sore is, and for some people the condition is not one they have heard of before, even although they may very well have suffered from a mild dose of canker sores.
In short, canker sores are painful lesions or spots that usually have a red border around them, typically also with a yellow or white center. They tend to come in various sizes, ranging from small to large, and they can appear individually, or in small clusters. Annoyingly, they can last for weeks at a time, though some will disappear in days.
They are unfortunately sores that can reappear, so you need to stay on top of the causes, as there is quite a high chance that they will reappear if the same causes remain active in your life.
Causes of canker sores
The causes of canker sores are various, but it can still be difficult to know exactly what generates their presence in anyone at any one time.
It’s certainly believed that stress is a factor, however. Related to that, a weakened immune system is also thought to make them more likely to appear, so be careful to remain well rested and to look after your levels of nutrition.
In addition, acidic foods or spicy foods can sometimes cause mouth sores to appear, so be careful of your diet, as we will see later. And as you may also expect, certain bacteria or viruses can all potentially contribute to the formation of such sores, especially those in your mouth.
Perhaps less known is that some hormonal imbalances, allergies, and nutritional deficiencies may play a role in their development too, but these conditions are rarer. And for some, genetics may even be a factor, though this is not something about which much absolutely definitive research has been done.
Treatments for Canker Sores
Minor canker sores
Pleasingly, there are several simple and invariably effective treatments for minor canker sores.
These can include swishing with salt water, using an over-the-counter (OTC) medication like benzocaine, or applying a mixture of baking soda and water directly to the sore.
Whatever method you decide to use, the key is to act fast, so you can improve your comfort level as quickly as possible.
Major canker sores
Major canker sores can be genuinely troublesome and you should act promptly to address their presence in your mouth.
Canker sores, as we said, range in size from small bumps to large ulcers. A major canker sore is one of the worst forms, as it can take up to four weeks for them to heal and they can be extremely painful. Furthermore, these sores may lead to some difficulties with meals, as well as day to day interaction with people, as talking itself can be uncomfortable.
If you find yourself with a major canker sore on your tongue, cheek, or lip, you should see an expert for advice. Medical treatments are available, but some of them require the discipline of repeat applications.
Herpetiform canker sores
To be clear, very few people have ever heard of these!
Herpetiform canker sores are clusters of painful, tiny ulcers located in the mouth. These ulcers can be anywhere from around a small cluster of three or so, right up to a large group of ten to twelve in number. Tiny, they usually measure less than two millimeters in size, so they can be difficult to spot, and you may miss them as you examine your mouth. They often appear in patches, rather than singularly, like other canker sores, so if you can identify such a grouping in your mouth, these are likely herpetiform sores.
Because of their look, they can often be mistaken for cold sores, so be careful. It is important to note that herpetiform canker sores have an entirely different cause from cold sores, which are a form of the herpes virus.
Herpetiform cankers are, by contrast, caused by an autoimmune reaction, so they can only be treated symptomatically.
Fortunately, treatments exist, such as topical medications, pain relievers, and mouthwashes.
Additionally, and importantly, good oral hygiene habits and a healthy, balanced diet can help reduce their severity and frequency of recurrence.
Effective Home Remedies for Canker Sores
Salt water rinse
Not only is salt water a great way to reduce inflammation, it may also be able to reduce irritation around the affected area. As remedies go, it is simple, cheap and effective.
Simply mix some warm water (be careful that it is not too hot) with a tablespoon of salt and swish it around in your mouth for up to 30 seconds. Then, spit out the mixture and repeat the process two or three more times. This will help to draw out any excess fluid from the canker sores and reduce inflammation.
Baking soda rinse
This is another fine remedy that is also pleasingly cheap and effective. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of lukewarm water, and then use it as a mouthwash. This simple solution helps neutralize the acidity of the sore. As with salt water, this is not a one-time solution. You will need to use it several times a day until your sores are completely gone.
Hydrogen peroxide rinse
Hydrogen peroxide is also a home remedy for canker sores.
To use this remedy, mix one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide in a cup of warm water. Swish the mixture around your mouth for approximately thirty seconds, before spitting it out. Do this up to four times per day, until you no longer have any signs of a canker sore.
Do bear in mind, however, that hydrogen peroxide is powerful, so do not overdo this. Make sure to err on the side of caution. You may wish to try salt water or baking soda first of all.
Milk of magnesia rinse
Many people swear by a diluted solution of magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia), which can be used as a rinse to soothe the pain caused by canker sores. By rinsing the affected areas with a little of this solution and spitting it out, it can help reduce the swelling and redness in your mouth. Additionally, you can also try applying a cotton ball soaked in milk of magnesia directly to the sore for a few minutes.
It’s worth noting that milk of magnesia is an over-the-counter medication and is generally considered safe to use. However, you should always consult your doctor or pharmacist if you are uncertain about its likely efficacy for your particular condition.
Alum powder rinse
Alum powder, which we sometimes find in deodorants, has antiseptic and astringent properties which helps fight the bacteria that can be responsible for causing canker sores.
To use this approach, mix one teaspoon of alum powder with about six ounces of warm water. Then swish the solution around your mouth for about one minute and spit it out. Generally, twice a day is about the right number of times to do this.
Ice cubes can be used to numb the area around the sore, providing temporary relief from the pain and itching. Plus, their application reduces inflammation.
To use this method, wrap the ice cube in a piece of cloth and apply it directly to the affected area for about 5-10 minutes at a time. Do this several times a day for best results, but do not freeze your mouth or make it painfully cold, as this may be counterproductive.
In addition, make sure to take breaks in between applications to avoid any further irritation or damage. Remember, ice cubes should only be used as a temporary solution for immediate distress.
Apple cider vinegar
Some studies have suggested that apple cider vinegar has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that could help reduce the size and discomfort of canker sores. To check if this works as a solution for you, dilute the vinegar before use by mixing it with an equal amount of water. Then use a cotton swab or cotton ball to apply the mixture directly to the sores.
In truth, you may feel a slight burning sensation when the liquid comes in contact with the sores, so, If necessary, take a break between applications. There is nothing to be gained from adding pain to pain in this instance!
Honey is a fantastic healing agent. Studies have shown that its antibacterial properties can help reduce inflammation and alleviate the pain caused by canker sores. Plus, honey is incredibly easy to obtain and has few negative side effects at all.
Apply a bit of honey directly onto the canker sore and simply let it sit for several minutes. Then you can rinse it out with warm water, or just let it evaporate into the mouth naturally.
Coconut oil has been gaining popularity lately as a natural remedy for canker sores, and research suggests that it might actually be significantly helpful.
What makes it an effective healing agent is its richness in lauric acid, which is an acid that exhibits antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in quite large measure. In addition, coconut oil contains vitamins and fatty acids that help protect the skin from bacterial and fungal infections. So applying it directly on the canker sores could help speed up the healing process while also providing relief from the pain.
Like honey, it, too, is a readily affordable remedy.
You may not have heard of or seen fenugreek paste, but it is worth looking out for. It’s an ancient remedy that has recently seen a resurgence in popularity. Fenugreek is a plant full of vitamins and minerals, and when made into a paste, it can be rubbed directly on canker sores for healing effects.
Like other natural remedies we have mentioned, the paste is known to reduce inflammation, which can ease pain and speed up the healing process of a canker sore. Chemically, it is high in lecithin, which is an essential fatty acid that helps your body heal itself.
Medical Treatments for Canker Sores
Over-the-counter pain relief medications
These medications come in the form of tablets, gels, ointments and rinses, so there’s likely to be one that’s suitable for your needs. The anti-inflammatory properties of these medications can help reduce the swelling and discomfort associated with canker sores.
As ever, before taking any over-the-counter pain relief medications, it is always best to consult with your doctor or healthcare professional.
Corticosteroids are an effective medical treatment for getting rid of canker sores, especially if the sores are more serious. They’re steroid hormones that your body naturally produces to help you respond to stress and fight diseases.
They benefit from being able to be administered in different forms, including topical creams, gels, solutions, and also as oral medications. Depending on the severity of the canker sores, your doctor may recommend using one or more of these forms of treatment.
Antibiotic ointments or gels
While it may seem strange to use antibiotics on something as small as a canker sore, they can be quite effective. Many antibiotic ointments contain active ingredients such as bacitracin and polymyxin B that can help kill the bacterial infection that’s causing the canker sore. Plus, these ointments can help reduce pain and speed up healing time.
Vitamin B12 supplements
Vitamin B12 helps support your red blood cell production, making sure that your cells have the oxygen they need to work properly. It also boosts your immunity, resulting in fewer infections and more energy.
Studies show that B12 helps reduce inflammation, which in turn helps reduce the size of canker sores. In addition, B12 supplements can help boost your overall health and improve your body’s ability to heal itself.
Vitamin C supplements
Some studies also suggest that boosting your Vitamin C intake can help to reduce the severity and healing time of canker sores. By itself, Vitamin C will not heal a canker sore, but its ability to strengthen the body’s immune system will assist other healing processes.
It is an absolutely critical part of your diet, and as the body does not store Vitamin C, you need to keep it regularly topped up with fresh fruits, fruit juices, and vegetables.
Tips to Avoid Canker Sores
Avoid acidic, spicy, or salty foods
One important step to take if you are susceptible to, or suffering from, canker sores is to avoid acidic, spicy, or salty foods.
Acidic foods can include citrus fruits, tomatoes, and vinegar-based dressings. Spicy foods often contain chili peppers, pepper flakes, or hot sauce, and these can be provocative ingredients that inflame the tongue or gums or lips. Finally, salted snacks like chips and salty nuts can also increase the likelihood of canker sores forming.
By avoiding these types of food, you can reduce the pain that accompanies canker sores and help get rid of them more quickly.
Choose the right toothbrush and toothpaste
By using a brush with softer bristles, you can gently remove plaque and bacteria without causing too much irritation or leading to further inflammation. The soft bristles can also massage your gums and help promote circulation, which can reduce the size of your sore.
On top of that, there are certain toothpastes that are specifically designed to target canker sores and reduce the pain associated with them. By contrast, some very strong minty toothpastes can sometimes cause a reaction in the mouth that can exacerbate any painful areas, so you may benefit from a milder flavored toothpaste.
Drinking plenty of water is one of the key steps to getting rid of canker sores. Staying hydrated helps to keep your cells, tissues and mouth healthy and protects your body from developing infections that can cause canker sores in the first place. Additionally, effective levels of hydration help reduce inflammation in the body.
One of the best ways to get rid of canker sores is to avoid stress. Ultimately, in the long term, the best way to make sure you don’t suffer from them is to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and yoga, can help you manage your daily stress levels. Regular exercise can also be incredibly beneficial in reducing stress. Take time out for yourself and engage in good healthy activities that you enjoy, so that you have a positive effect on your body and mind.
Eat a balanced diet
You may have noticed that when you eat an unbalanced diet, you tend to suffer from mouth ulcers or canker sores. This is the case with many sufferers. To avoid sores, eat a balanced diet, typically consisting of fruits, vegetables, dairy, and lean proteins. Eating these foods in the right proportion and at regular intervals will help to keep your body healthy and your immune system functioning properly. And remember, if you are going to snack, try to stay away from sugary and acidic foods, as they can further irritate your canker sores and potentially exacerbate them.