If you’ve ever had a canker sore, you know how painful they can be. Canker sores are a type of mouth ulcer also called an aphthous ulcer. An estimated 25 percent of Americans have recurring canker sores. While canker sores can be annoying, they are not serious and usually go away on their own within two weeks. 1
What Causes Canker Sores?
The good news is that canker sores are not contagious. The not-so-great news is that researchers are unsure of the exact cause of canker sores. 2 Family history, as well as nutritional deficiencies, hormonal changes, food allergies and stress are often associated with mouth ulcers. Mouth injuries, usually due to dental work, may also cause canker sores.
What Do Canker Sores Look Like?
Canker sores are usually small and either oval or round. They often have a white or yellowish center. They occur inside the lips, cheeks, or other soft tissues of the mouth. Some people confuse canker sores with cold sores, but the two are different. Cold sores are blisters caused by the herpes simplex virus. Cold sores can appear outside of the mouth; canker sores cannot. Cold sores are usually smaller than canker sores, and they also tend to heal faster. 3
When you’ve got a canker sore, you want to feel better fast. Here are 10 canker sore remedies to ease your pain and help your mouth heal.
1. Swish with Baking Soda
Household baking soda and water can make an effective mouth rinse for dealing with canker sores. Mix one teaspoon of baking soda with ½ cup warm water. Swish this mixture around in your mouth for a few minutes, then spit it out. Some people also experience good results by dabbing baking soda directly onto canker sores several times per day.
2. Try Vitamin B12
Many people are deficient in vitamin B12. Since nutrition deficiencies are a possible cause of canker sores, it stands to reason that meeting these deficiencies can help cure them. A 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that taking a vitamin B12 supplement effectively treated repeat canker sore outbreaks. Study participants who suffered from recurrent canker sores took 1000 mcg of vitamin B12 at bedtime for six months. Participants reported fewer canker sore outbreaks, outbreaks of shorter duration, and less pain. 5
3. Zinc Up!
Zinc is an essential mineral your body needs for good health. Research has shown that patients with recurrent canker sores may have low levels of zinc. For these patients, zinc supplements have been found to decrease canker sores in clinical trials.6 Women need 8 grams of zinc daily; men need 11 grams.7 Many people prefer to take zinc supplements in lozenge form.
4. Chill Out
Just like you’d ice up an injury to help alleviate pain and inflammation, ice can help your canker sore as well. Hold an ice cube on the canker sore until it becomes numb. Popsicles and cold drinks may also help to decrease the inflammation and pain of canker sores.8
5. Pump Iron
Iron is a mineral your body needs to make hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells. 9 Iron deficiency can cause anemia and other symptoms of poor health. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research showed that iron deficiency may cause oral ulcers. 10 How much iron is enough? Men ages 19 to 64 and women ages 50 to 64 need 8.7 mg of iron daily. Women ages 19 to 50 need 14.8 mg. 11 If you’re not getting enough iron in your diet, you may need to take an oral supplement.
6. Reduce Stress
Stress can cause canker sores to flare up, especially in people who are prone to them. A 2009 study showed that psychological stress may be a trigger for canker sores.12 Ways to reduce stress include exercise, meditation, deep breathing, and getting enough sleep.13 Do what you can to alleviate daily stress, and you may have fewer canker sore outbreaks.
7. Mix It Up
When it comes to quick relief, a combination of over-the-counter medications may help ease the pain of canker sores and help them heal more quickly. Some experts recommend a mixture of 50 percent hydrogen peroxide and 50 percent liquid Benadryl as a mouth rinse. Swish the mixture around in the mouth for approximately one minute before spitting out. Take care not to swallow the liquid. Additionally, you can apply a 50/50 solution of hydrogen peroxide directly on the canker sore with a cotton swab several times daily. Follow up by dabbing a small amount of Milk of Magnesia on the sore. Following this regimen should take away some of the pain, allowing the canker sore to heal faster. 14
8. Go SLS-Free
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a cleaning agent found in many toothpaste brands. There is some evidence that SLS can cause or exacerbate canker sores in people prone to them. 15 Try using a toothpaste free of SLS, such as a natural brand.
9. Patch It Up with Licorice Root
Licorice root, a common herbal remedy often used in traditional Chinese medicine, may help heal your canker sore, or at least lessen the discomfort. Scientists at the University of Washington found that an oral licorice root patch alleviated canker sore pain within three days. 16 The patch also caused canker sores to shrink within seven days. Chewable licorice root supplements may also help.
10. Snooze Away
There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that getting plenty of quality sleep can help your canker sore disappear. Sure, it’s nice to slumber so you don’t feel the pain, but since stress may trigger these painful sores, and we know getting rest can help alleviate stress, it makes sense to get your ZZZs on. Many parents tell their children that canker sores are your body’s way of telling you to slow down and rest. Seems to make sense!
Having a canker sore can make it painful to eat, drink, and talk. It may help to remember that, even without treatment, your canker sore will likely go away in one to two weeks. In the meantime, try these remedies for less canker sore pain and a quicker recovery.
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