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Canker sores, or mouth ulcers, are mostly harmless and resolve on their own within a couple of weeks. (1) They are not contagious like fever blisters or cold sores since they are not caused by a virus, but other noninfectious factors.
They may develop due to skin trauma or injury, hormonal fluctuations, food sensitivity, vitamin deficiency, dehydration, emotional stress, genetics, and compromised immunity.
While these ulcers don’t pose any serious risk to your health, they can be quite painful, make it difficult for you to eat or speak, and keep coming back.
You may try some home remedies, dietary changes, and other self-care measures to reduce the discomfort caused by these ulcers and speed up their healing.
Home Remedies for Canker Sores
Here are some natural ways to get rid of a canker sore fast:
1. Try echinacea herb
Echinacea is a medicinal herb that has been proven effective in reducing the pain, duration, and recurrence of mouth ulcers. (2) It does so by boosting your immunity, which leads to faster and better healing. Plus, it is quite inexpensive and readily available.
How to use:
- Start taking 200 mg of Echinacea twice or thrice a day as soon as the sore first appears.
- Mix 1 teaspoon each of liquid echinacea in the same amount of warm water, swish this solution inside your mouth for at least 2 minutes, and then gulp it down or spit it out.
2. Apply alum powder to the affected area
Alum powder works as an astringent that helps dry out the canker sore faster. It draws out the fluid from the lesion and shrinks the tissues to facilitate quick wound healing.
Moreover, it exhibits anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve the pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness associated with mouth ulcers.
How to use:
- Directly apply the alum powder to the canker sore using a cotton swab.
- Let it sit for 1–2 minutes.
- Rinse it off your mouth.
- Do this one to two times daily.
3. Use coconut oil
Applying coconut oil to a canker sore helps curb the underlying inflammation, make it hurt less, and reduce its size. It is also known to possess antimicrobial properties that can help remove any germs from the sore to keep it from getting infected while it heals. (3)
It’s best to use organic, extra-virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil, which has the highest nutrient value and minimum adulteration and therefore exhibits maximum healing effects.
How to use:
- Put some coconut oil on the sore several times a day using a clean cotton ball or a clean finger
- Rinse your mouth with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil for 15 minutes, two times a day.
4. Honey application can help
Honey is credited with multiple healing properties that can help treat a canker sore.
It is a potent anti-inflammatory agent that can ease the pain, redness, and swelling of the lesion while also curbing its size. (4) It is also a natural antiseptic that protects the wound from infection during the healing process.
Lastly, it is deeply moisturizing and full of nutrients that help the skin heal better and faster.
How to use:
- Apply some raw organic honey to and around the mouth ulcer.
- Leave it on for a couple of minutes before rinsing it off with water.
- Repeat twice daily.
5. Use milk of magnesia
Milk of magnesia is traditionally used as a laxative, but it may also be useful in treating a canker sore due to its magnesium hydroxide content. Magnesium hydroxide works as a natural acid neutralizer that helps dry out the ulcer, keeps it from spreading, and makes it hurt less.
Once the sore shrinks, it will heal quickly.
How to use:
- Dip a clean cotton swab in 1 teaspoon of milk of magnesia and gently dab it all over the canker sore.
- Keep your mouth open for 5–10 seconds so that it gets properly absorbed.
- Reapply 7–8 times a day.
6. Try using deglycyrrhizinated licorice
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is an herbal licorice extract with strong anti-inflammatory effects that can help shrink the canker sore to speed up healing while also alleviating the pain, swelling, and redness associated with it. (5)
How to use:
- Place a DGL lozenge on the canker sore until it dissolves.
- Crack open a 200 mg DGL capsule, empty its contents in a cup of warm water, give it a good mix, and then swish the mixture inside your mouth for 3 minutes or so before spitting it out. (6)
Note: DGL lozenges are not recommended for children as they can be a choking hazard.
7. Give hydrogen peroxide a try
Hydrogen peroxide is a widely used antiseptic that can kill any germs present on the mouth ulcer to prevent infection. (7)
If the sore gets infected, it will become more painful, red, and swollen, and it will take longer to heal. So, this kind of sanitization of the wound is important to ensure timely recovery.
But bear in mind, hydrogen peroxide is quite potent and might sting a little when applied to the lesion.
How to use:
- Mix 1 teaspoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution with an equal amount of water. Soak a cotton swab into the solution and gently dab it on the sore. Reapply a few times every day until the sore heals.
- You can also use this solution as a mouthwash once a day.
8. Prepare and use a sage mouthwash
Sage can facilitate faster healing of a canker sore through two mechanisms.
First, sage contains antimicrobial properties that protect the canker sore from infection-causing germs. Infection can make the lesion grow bigger and hurt more while also delaying skin healing.
Second, sage helps bring down the pain, swelling, and redness associated with the sore due to its inherent anti-inflammatory nature.
How to use:
- To make a sage mouthwash, simply steep about 2 teaspoons of dried sage in some boiling water with the pot covered.
- Let the solution cool.
- Use the solution to rinse your mouth about two or three times a day.
9. Apply black tea bag
Tea is full of antioxidant compounds such as tannins that help reduce the inflammation and pain associated with a canker sore while also promoting skin healing. (8)
Given its high pH, tea may also help neutralize acids to shrink the ulcer quickly. It also contains astringent compounds, which may help relieve the pain.
How to use:
- Soak a tea bag in boiled water and then let it cool.
- Apply the tea to the canker sore for a few minutes.
10. Consume yogurt
H. pylori bacteria and inflammatory bowel disease can upset your digestive system and trigger the development of canker sores. In such cases, eating yogurt may help restore healthy gut flora to facilitate better digestion and thereby rid you of the canker sores fast.
Yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics or good bacteria that keep the bad bacteria in check. (9)
How to use:
Consume a cup of yogurt daily to make the cankers go away.
Dietary Changes for Canker Sores
Here are a few dietary recommendations to promote healing of canker sores:
- In general, it is important to get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet, including folic acid, vitamin B12, zinc, and iron.
- B12 (folate) and iron are essential for making healthy red blood cells that are, in turn, needed to repair nerve or tissue damage. Thus, you need to get enough of these vital nutrients to heal the ulcers inside your mouth. (10)(11) Foods rich in iron include leafy greens such as spinach and asparagus, beans, lentils, seafood, turkey, chicken, and ham.
- Zinc is crucial for proper wound healing, blood clotting, and immunity. Thus, you should consume more of this essential mineral to get rid of a canker sore. Foods rich in zinc include lentils, pumpkin, cashew, and sesame.
- Give up smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco as they are known to trigger canker sores.
- Avoid crispy, hard, spicy, salty, or acidic foods that can further irritate the inflamed mucous membranes in your mouth. The same goes for fizzy beverages, coffee, and alcohol. (12) Instead, consume soft bland foods that don’t require a lot of chewing and can be easily gulped down without hurting the sore. Yogurt is a perfect example.
Preventive Tips for Canker Sores
Here are a few measures that can help prevent canker sores in the future while also healing the current ones:
- Make sure to brush and floss your teeth daily. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to prevent gum injuries that can later evolve into canker sores.
- Use a saline solution (5 mL of salt in 240 mL of water) to rinse your oral cavity thoroughly.
- Certain medications such as chemotherapy drugs, phenytoin, and beta blockers are known to cause canker sores as a side effect. If you experience this problem while taking such medications, ask your doctor for a better alternative.
- Avoid touching the ulcer as much as you can to protect it from further damage and infection. When you do need to touch the sore, always wash your hands before and after.
- Certain oral hygiene products contain alcohol and sodium lauryl sulfate, which can aggravate the pain of a canker sore. So, go through the ingredient list before buying such products.
- Stress is also a prime contributor to the development of canker sores. So, it is important to manage your stress levels through yoga, relaxation therapies, regular exercise, and other calming activities.
Most-Asked Questions About Canker Sores
How do I know if I have canker sores?
Canker sores are described as small round lesions that have a red outline with a yellow, white, or gray fluid-filled center. They are benign but can be quite painful.
They can appear:
Is treatment always necessary?
Canker sores generally heal on their own without treatment. Nearly 85 out of every 100 cases of canker sores are classified as minor, which means they are:
- Only a few millimeters in diameter
- Hurt for 3–5 days only
- Disappear completely after about two weeks
But if the pain and discomfort are unbearable, you may consult a doctor for proper medication.
How do I know if the lesion is a canker sore or a cold sore?
There are two key differences between cold sores and canker sores:
- Cold sores form outside the mouth on the external surface of the lips, whereas canker sores tend to occur inside the mouth.
- Cold sores are caused by a virus and are therefore contagious, but canker sores are not triggered by any pathogen and therefore do not spread from one person to another.
Mouth ulcers are benign and self-resolving, but you can follow the above-mentioned tips and remedies to manage your symptoms, promote healing, and prevent recurrence.
However, canker sores can sometimes be the result of systemic abnormalities that require proper medical diagnosis and treatment. Moreover, other pathologic conditions can give rise to ulcers that may be mistaken for a canker sore.
So, if your lesion persists for longer than 2 weeks, seek professional medical attention.