Remedies for Canker Sores

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 14, 2020

Canker sores are painful ulcers on the soft tissues of the mouth. They can develop on the tongue or gums, but are most commonly found inside the lips. They are usually red with a white or yellow center and can cause considerable discomfort while eating, drinking, and talking. Additionally, these sores cannot be spread to other people, and it is possible to have more than one at a time.

Anyone can develop a canker sore, but they are most common in teens and young adults. Experts don’t know why some people experience these sores more regularly than others, although some suspect that stress, hormones, allergies, and vitamin deficiencies may play a role.

Canker sores typically improve and heal on their own within a week. However, severe sores can last for several weeks. The primary goal in treating canker sores is to manage the pain and prevent infection. Over-the-counter pain relievers and oral anesthetic gels can help with the discomfort. Additionally, rinsing your mouth with saltwater or mouthwash can help speed the natural healing process.

Remedies and Treatments for Canker Sores

You can successfully treat canker sores at home with natural remedies and over-the-counter medicines. There are a few approaches for managing the discomfort, encouraging healing, and preventing the sores from getting worse.

Oral Pain Medications

Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help you cope with the pain and discomfort of a canker sore. These painkillers help you feel less pain by interfering with the ability of damaged cells to transmit pain messages to your nervous system. Eating, drinking, and talking can be difficult with a painful canker sore. Therefore, taking oral pain relievers can help.

Topical Painkillers

There are also several topical pain-relieving gels and ointments created especially for canker sores. These contain benzocaine, which numbs the nerve endings in the skin. Apply this gel with a Q-tip to the sore and allow it to dry. You can apply these topical local anesthetics up to four times a day to help you cope with the discomfort.

Mouthwashes

Regularly rinsing your mouth out can help speed up the healing process. You can wash your mouth with any of the following substances to keep your mouth clean and prevent bacteria from making your canker sore worse:

  • Saltwater
  • Alcohol-free commercial mouthwash
  • A mixture of one-half milk of magnesia and one-half benadryl liquid allergy medicine

Continued

Foods and Drinks to Avoid

The following foods and beverages can irritate your canker sore and exacerbate the pain. Try to avoid these while it heals.

  • Hot beverages like tea or coffee
  • Spicy foods
  • Salty snacks like pretzels, chips, and nuts
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Acidic foods like tomatoes and condiments (i.e. ketchup, mustard, vinaigrette)

Prevention

Once your canker sore heals, there are things you can do to prevent a recurrence. Make sure you are eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Be aware of consuming too many acidic, spicy, or salty foods that irritate the mouth. Brush your teeth after meals to keep your mouth clean. Finally, try to minimize stress or learn practices like meditation to reduce emotional stress.

When to See a Doctor

Consult your doctor if your canker sore is unusually large and lasts longer than two weeks. If you can’t control the pain and find it especially difficult to eat, there are medicines your doctor can prescribe to help that are not over-the-counter. You should make an appointment to see your doctor if you experience a high fever or nausea with your canker sores.

Remedies for Children

Children can also experience canker sores. They cause the same symptoms in children as in adults. The sores develop inside the mouth, on the surface of gums, tongue, or inner lips. They are generally red with a white center and are typically painful. Children who have canker sores may resist eating or drinking due to the discomfort.

Follow the same treatments for children as for adults such as:

  • Avoid spicy, salty, and acidic foods
  • Take acetaminophen for the pain
  • Use mouth rinses to keep the sore clean
  • Apply pain-relieving gels to ease the discomfort
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

Sources:

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “How Do Pain Relievers Work?”

Mayo Clinic: “Benzocaine.”

Mayo Clinic: “Canker Sore.”

University of Florida Health: “Canker Sore.”

University of Michigan Health: “Canker Sores.”

University of Rochester Medical Center: “Canker Sores in Children.”

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