As a former USN Hospital Corpsman, John draws from many years of experience in surgery and general sick bay treatment.
What Is a Canker Sore?
Canker sores, medically termed apthae, are small, white, swollen, and painful ulcers inside the mouth. Mouth ulcers may appear on the tongue, throat, lips, or roof of the mouth (also known as the soft palate). The medical term for the condition is Aphthous stomatitis. Since these ulcers may be a symptom of another disease, it is advised to see a doctor if the sores continue to reappear.
The condition is marked by benign and non-contagious ulcers, and occurs in healthy individuals. These sores can make eating and drinking difficult.
Dentists categorize canker sores into three categories:
- Minor canker sores (small in size)
- Major cankers sores (large in size)
- Herpetiform cankers sores (multiple; in groups or clusters)
The base of an ulcer is generally red and inflamed. Sometimes, the white portion of the sore can have a yellow center. It is common to feel a tingling or burning sensation a day or two before the appearance of the sore.
Most cankers heal themselves. The condition can last for a week to a month, but the average healing time is 7-10 days. Prescription medication is often used for mouth ulcers that the body cannot resolve on its own.
None of these remedies have been reviewed by a scientific board. They are natural home remedies. Due to the risk of allergy and adverse reactions, consult with a physician first. These substances may interact with certain medications. Understand the limitations of self-treatment.
Home Remedies for Canker Sores
- Yogurt: Yogurt is made from fermented bacteria, which may help balance the bacteria in your mouth. This presumes that an imbalance of bacteria is the cause of ulcers.
- Saltwater: Saltwater has astringent properties and can draw liquid out of the ulcer. By reducing swelling, you are less likely to irritate the sore when eating or talking; salt has antiseptic properties.
- Honey: Honey can reduce inflammation and heal the skin. Honey contains beneficial enzymes that can deactivate microbes. To use honey, follow the directions below:
- Mix one teaspoonful of honey with one-quarter teaspoon of tumeric powder to make a paste (tumeric is an anti-inflammatory).
- Leave the paste on the sore for at least 5 minutes.
- Rinse with water, and do this twice a day.
- Ice: Some folks apply ice directly to the spot where the tingling starts. Applying ice to the canker sore directly reduces pain and swelling. There are claims that ice can stop an ulcer from developing or getting worse.
- Plum juice: Plum juice is said to be helpful.
- Swish around two teaspoons of plum juice for at least 3 minutes.
- Dip a cotton ball in the juice and press it directly on the sore.
- Grapefruit seed: Grapefruit seed extract is also beneficial. Mix it in a glass of water and rinse once daily. Note: Citrus can cause cankers (this is grapefruit seed extract).
- Peppermint: Peppermint promotes healing, decreases inflammation, and has numbing and cooling properties that help with the pain. Prepare peppermint tea for gargling, or just to sip and soothe your mouth.
- Coconut oil and beeswax: Coconut oil can be used to treat mouth ulcers. Dip a finger in the oil, and rest it on the sore. You can use a cotton swab if you choose. Beeswax will coat the sore and keep it from hurting when the sore is rubbed. Beeswax can be particularly helpful if you have dental appliances in your mouth. Melt one tablespoon of beeswax and two teaspoons of coconut oil for pain relief and protection. Apply a blob to the affected area.
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- Aloe vera: Aloe vera has strong anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and analgesic properties. I have a plant in my yard and use it for ulcers and sunburns. If you are going to cut the plant, cut a leaf diagonally—you'll get a bit more out of it. Squeeze the leaf, and apply the gel to the sore. Repeat as often as you like. You can also purchase food-grade aloe vera gel at grocery stores, health food stores, or drug stores. Take 2 tablespoons twice a day.
- Coriander: Coriander can be used on cankers, also. Coriander has anti-fungal properties. Use as follows:
- Place leaves in 8 ounces of water and boil.
- After boiling, drain the water and use it as a mouthwash.
- Use 3 or 4 times a day.
- Tannic acid: Tannic acid is an astringent that will dry a canker sore and result in less pain and inflammation. A used tea bag that has been refrigerated can be used to reduce discomfort. Take the cold, moist tea bag, and press it on the sore for a few minutes. This can be done 2-3 times a day.
- Sage leaves: Steep sage leaves in 2 cups of water for at least 15 minutes, and use the water as a rinse as often as you like. Smashing the leaves into a pulp makes a poultice. You can place the poultice on the sore for 5 to 10 minutes. Do not ingest.
- Licorice root: Licorice contains glycyrrhizin. Extract purchased at the market can shrink the size of the ulcer and promote faster healing. Use as follows:
- Add one tablespoon of ground licorice to 2 cups of water.
- Let the brew sit for at least an hour.
- Use as a rinse. Do not ingest.
- Chamomile: Chamomile tea bags, when applied to the sore, can provide relief. People with plant allergies in the Asteraceae family, may have a sensitivity to chamomile.
- Lady's mantle: The herb, lady's mantle, can be smashed up and combined with glycerin. This gel can be applied 3 times a day.
When to See a Doctor
Consider seeing a doctor if you experience any of the following:
- sores last longer than 2 weeks
- sores are larger than a dime
- you have difficulty eating or drinking
- you experience a sore throat and inflammation
- you have a fever
Causes of Canker Sores
There are many factors that cause mouth ulcers; studies show that they are not transmitted by sexual contact. One theory suggests that the condition is an immune response associated with triggered T cells (T lymphocytes). Biopsies have shown that the sores are mainly composed of T cells.
Even though most researchers support the theory that mouth ulcers are caused by the immune system turning on the body, the condition is not like other autoimmune diseases. No correlation has been found between the condition and other autoimmune diseases. Common antibodies that are present in autoimmune diseases are not present in Aphthous stomatitis. Instead, T cells invade tissue when triggered, but the trigger has yet to be identified.
Recurring mouth sores can be frustrating, but the condition is said to resolve with age. Trying to cheer up those affected by the condition seems fruitless, but here's a try:
Foods That Can Trigger Canker Sores
Common Triggers of Canker Sores
- Small injuries to the mouth can trigger an ulcer. Examples include dental injuries, brushing, biting your cheek, or a blow to the mouth.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate in toothpaste and mouthwash may result in cankers.
- Any abrasive food can be a culprit. I get mouth sores if I eat tomatoes or walnuts.
- Some bacteria in the mouth can result in cankers.
- Hormonal changes and stress are reported as precipitates.
- Inflammatory diseases or a malfunctioning immune system are commonly believed to be associated with mouth ulcers.
- Cankers can come about after HIV/AIDS infection.
- A vitamin B-12, folic acid, zinc, or iron deficiency may result in mouth ulcers.
- Cigarette smoking can cause mouth sores.
Canker sores are not only painful, but they frequently disrupt our daily routines such as drinking our go-to morning coffee. To boot, eating a piece of toast can be torture. 25% of us suffer from cankers on occasion, and we endure the discomfort for one to two weeks. Luckily, several of the aforementioned home remedies can make the experience a little less uncomfortable.
- Home Remedies for Canker Sores: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Relief, Diet
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- 11 Home Remedies to Get Rid of Canker Sores | Everyday Roots
- Canker Sores - familydoctor.org
Canker sores are small, thin sores in the mouth. They usually last 7 to 10 days and go away on their own, but may require a doctor visit or treatment.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2017 John R Wilsdon