Canker sores can be a real pain, and are sometimes tough to heal. Thankfully I haven't had one in years, although I used to get them more regularly when I was younger, and my husband had a terrible time with canker sores when he wore braces as a teenager. In this post we'll give a quick overview of the different types of canker sores, what causes canker sores, the difference between canker sores and cold sores, and some inexpensive home remedies for canker sores. Hopefully if you've come here for canker sore pain relief and prevention, we've got on option that will get you back on track ASAP.
What is a Canker Sore?
- Simple canker sores. These may appear three or four times a year and last up to a week. They typically occur in people between 10 and 20 years of age.
- Complex canker sores. These are less common and occur more often in people who have previously had them.
They continue with information on potential causes of canker sores –
The exact cause of most canker sores is unknown. Stress or tissue injury is thought to be the cause of simple canker sores. Certain foods – including citrus or acidic fruits and vegetables (such as lemons, oranges, pineapples, apples, figs, tomatoes, and strawberries) – can trigger a canker sore or make the problem worse. Sometimes a sharp tooth surface or dental appliance, such as braces or ill-fitting dentures, might also trigger canker sores.
Some cases of complex canker sores are caused by an underlying health condition, such as an impaired immune system; nutritional problems, such as vitamin B-12, zinc, folic acid, or iron deficiency; and gastrointestinal tract disease, such as Celiac disease and Crohn’s disease.
Can Canker Sores Be Prevented?
Although there is no cure for canker sores and they often reoccur, you may be able to reduce their frequency by:
1. Avoiding foods that irritate your mouth – including acidic or spicy foods
2. Avoiding irritation from gum chewing
3. Brushing with a soft-bristled brush after meals and flossing daily, which will keep your mouth free of foods that might trigger a sore.
So, if you have frequently occurring canker sores, you should probably take a look at your health/diet to see what the underlying factors might be.
What's the difference between canker sores and cold sores?
Cold sores are a cluster of blisters that first appear clear then become cloudy. First infection may be inside the mouth, but cold sores generally appear outside the mouth on the lips.
Canker sores are gray or white sores surrounded by a red inflamed area. They occur only inside the mouth, on the tongue or the insides of the cheeks, lips or throat.
Cold sores (also known as fever blisters) are caused by a virus, herpes simplex virus (HSV), and may be transmitted via contact, especially when the sore is open. The cause of canker sores is unknown, and they are generally not considered to be transmittable.
Home Remedies for Canker Sores #1 – Coconut Oil
A couple of days ago I woke up with a canker sore on the inside of my lower lip. I get them once in a blue moon, less often than when I was younger. I suspect it popped up because of stress, as things have been a little bumpy lately. The little blister was annoying – red, sore and constantly rubbing against my teeth. The bump wasn’t huge, maybe 2 mm across. I googled “Coconut Oil for Canker Sores”, and found that some sites recommended it, so I decided to give it a try.
Since I was taking my tablespoon of coconut oil before breakfast, lunch and dinner anyway, I decided to hold the oil in the front of my mouth as long as possible as it dissolved. (For those who haven’t read Eat Fat, Lose Fat, the authors recommend taking a tablespoon of coconut oil in warm water 20 minutes before meals. I usually am on the go so I just scoop some out of the jar and stuff it in my cheek until it dissolves. Feel free to let me know if there’s a problem with this, but it seems to be working for me.)
After breakfast, the day got busy as usual and I didn’t really have time to focus on the canker sore. It wasn’t until around 4:30 in the afternoon when I was talking to my sister on the phone that I realized the bump was GONE. Nada, zip, zilch. I went and looked in the mirror and all that was left was a red spot and a slight indentation. By the next morning even that was mostly gone. The area was just a wee bit darker then the surrounding tissue. I have NEVER gotten over a canker sore this fast. I’ve tried over the counter remedies, alum, ice cubes – nothing has worked this fast or this painlessly (alum really stings, BTW). It could be merely coincidence, but I don’t think so.
My son says I’ve been using coconut oil for everything lately, and it does seem that way at times. (I’ve recommended it for warts, dry skin, dandruff, thyroid issues, weight loss….) When something works, it works. I’m not saying it’s going to work for everyone all the time, but I’ve seen some very good results and maybe it can help you, too.
Coconut oil has also been used to treat warts.
Home Remedy for Canker Sores #2 – Baking Soda
Baking soda is the #4 recommended remedy on EarthClinic for canker sores. Users have treated canker sores by dissolving baking soda in water and holding it in their mouths, and by applying baking soda directly to the canker sore. Here is some feedback from EarthClinic users on baking soda.
Baking soda cured my canker sore within 24 hours. I had major pain on the side of my tongue to find a canker sore it was so sore I couldn't hardly swallow. I took 1tsp of baking soda and 1 tsp of water and kept it in my mouth as long as possible. I did this 3 times within an hour went to bed and did the same the next morning by dinner time the canker sore was gone!
Out of the blue 4 days ago I got a canker sore that was 1.5 inches large on the side of my tongue. It was excruciating! Last night before bed I tried putting a baking soda paste on it and I woke up this morning and it's almost gone!
Baking soda is also useful for treating bites and stings.
Home Remedy for Canker Sores #3 – Salt Water
In the book “Home Remedies: What Works” (now out of print), a salt water rinse was one of the top canker sore remedies. Canker sore sufferers saw relief after swishing salt water around in their mouths for a few minutes 2-4 times per day. To use, dissolve two tablespoons of salt in a six ounce glass of warm water. Sip and swish gently over the affected area for several minutes, spit. Repeat as needed. The consulting doctor for the book says that salt water helps draw fluid through tissues, speeding healing.
Home Remedy for Canker Sores #4 – Tea
Another canker sore sufferer from the “Home Remedies: What Works” book used tea to get rid of her canker sores. She said her grandmother would always use tea bags for canker sore treatment. The family brewed the tea as normal and drank it, then tucked the tea bag in their mouth on the canker sore, something like a snuff pouch. The tannic acid in the tea provided the relief. (Tannic acid is the active in the over the counter canker sore remedy Zilactin.)
Home Remedy for Canker Sores #5 – Honey
In the post, “Honey as Medicine“, we talk about all sorts of different ways to use honey for wound care and infection prevention, but one of the subjects not covered in the article was using honey to treat canker sores. While raw honey and manuka honey are the preferred options for canker sore and wound treatment, a study in Saudi Arabia studied the use of commercial honey to treat canker sores. They divided participants into three groups – The first treated their sores with plain old commercial honey, the second used an oral corticosteroid cream, and the third got an over-the-counter product that forms a protective paste to cover sores while they heal. All three groups applied their treatment three times per day. Results were as follows:
In just 4 days, all sores in the honey group had disappeared completely—but the number of sores in groups 2 and 3 hadn’t budged. Honey even helped to soothe pain. After day 1, honey users reported a 95.5% decrease in pain, with total pain elimination by day 2. Groups 2 and 3 were not so lucky: It took them 8 days to reach the same pain-free state.
So – hit the pantry and thank the bees for sweet relief.
Home Remedy for Canker Sores #6 – Aloe Vera Juice
Food grade aloe vera gel can be swished around the mouth, applied directly to the canker sore, and/or drank as a supplement to help speed healing of canker sores. Aloe vera contains salicylates, like aspirin, which reduce pain and inflammation. Aloe vera is also a natural antibiotic. You can purchase ready to go aloe vera juice, or make your own by juicing or scraping and mashing the pulp from an aloe vera leaf.
Home Remedy for Canker Sores #7 – L-lysine
L-lysine is an essential amino acid, which means that it is required for health but can't be manufactured by the body. It's found in high protein foods like nuts, red meat, eggs, milk, cheese, beans, and sardines, but is also available as a supplement.
MDHealth.com lists l-lysine uses and concerns:
Patients who have large wounds, burns, or other medical conditions involving protein loss also need supplemental lysine for repair. Some people take l-lysine supplements to treat or prevent viral infections like cold sores and shingles.
Although lysine may be taken without prescription, it must be taken with caution to avoid side effects such as nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and stomach pain.
For treating herpes (cold sore) infections, one may need a higher dosage, ranging from 3,000 – 9,000 mg, taken in divided doses, daily. To prevent recurrences, one may need to take 1,000 mg three times a day. Consult a physician for more information on proper dosage and duration of intake.
Excessive doses can also lead to gallstone formation and increased cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
EarthClinic users have held l-lysine supplements on the canker sores for treatment, and have also dosed with 500 mg of l-lysine internally for canker sore treatment.
Home Remedy for Canker Sores #8 – Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is recommended by EarthClinic users either straight or mixed with warm water to help heal their canker sores.
EarthClinic User Tony from Florida shares:
Apple Cider Vinegar mixed with a 1/2 cup of warm water – swish around in your mouth for 30-60 seconds 2x a day and it will be gone quickly!
Other users held a spoonful of vinegar on the canker sore for 30 seconds to “as long as you can stand it” to get relief.
Note: Some users did find their mouths were more irritated instead of less irritated with ACV, so it might not be my first choice.
Home Remedy for Canker Sores #9 – Yogurt
Daily consumption of yogurt with live and active cultures may help prevent and heal canker sore outbreaks. According to Dr. Julian Whitaker, those who suffer from regular outbreaks should eat ¼ cup of yogurt per day for prevention, and consume an eight ounce container per day to heal an outbreak.
Although alum has long been recommended for canker sore treatment, it wouldn't be at the top of my list of options because testing has shown that the aluminum in alum can be absorbed through the skin, and I feel we have enough aluminum exposure in our lives already.
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. If pain is severe or persistent, please see a trained healthcare professional. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, although we do own a stethoscope and a lab coat (we're homeschoolers 😉 I am just a mom asking questions because I am sick and tired of the pill-popping, processed food dominated status quo.
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