Canker sores seem to come out of nowhere! But the truth is, there's often a culprit. They can come on due to stress, when you haven’t gotten enough sleep, or if you ate acidic food. The question becomes: what do you do about them, especially when you prefer using natural remedies to medicine?
About one in every five people experience canker sores. These uncomfortable shallow lesions occur inside the mouth and not only feel irritating, but they also can make it hard to eat. While canker sores usually go away on their own, some natural remedies can bring comfort and speed up recovery.
What Are Canker Sores?
The most common type of canker sore is called an aphthous ulcer, or a simple or minor canker sore. Small and shallow, they form inside the cheeks or lips, along the gums, or on the tongue. More women than men tend to experience these types of canker sores. Canker sores that are larger than 1/3 inch and last more than two weeks are called complex or major canker sores.
While some types are more painful than others, none are contagious. An occasional minor canker sore doesn’t indicate any underlying health issue.
Don’t confuse canker sores with cold sores, also called fever blisters. Cold sores are caused by the Herpes simplex virus and show up on or around the lip, nose, and chin. They are contagious. If the sore is inside your mouth, it’s likely a canker sore. If it’s outside the mouth, it’s most likely a cold sore.
Home Remedies for Canker Sores
Canker sores usually heal on their own in about a week. But if the discomfort is too much and you want to heal faster, there are several helpful natural remedies you can try.
These may not only speed up the healing process but also reduce inflammation and relieve discomfort.
Ozonated Olive Oil
Ozone is a natural molecule that medical experts use for its disinfecting powers. Applying ozonated olive oil topically can soothe irritated tissue and repel harmful organisms. This also helps ease the discomfort of your canker sore. O2-Zap® is a certified organic ozonated olive oil paste made with pure oxygen and ozone that brings instant relief to swollen or irritated skin.
How to use: Put a small amount of ozonated olive oil on a cotton swab and apply it to the surface of the canker sore three times daily.
Probiotics & Yogurt
The cooling, smooth texture of yogurt is a great topical pain reliever. Better yet, it helps replenish good bacteria in your digestive tract, which can help the lesion. Your digestive system contains probiotic or healthy bacteria from your mouth all the way to your large intestines. These bacteria help maintain a healthy balance to your body, including the oral ecosystem. If your mouth gets too acidic, you may end up with more sores. The entire digestive tract is connected, so ensuring optimal gut health means better oral health. And this means less recurrence of canker sores.
How to use: Eat one cup of coconut or almond milk yogurt daily for excellent gut health. If you are not a fan of yogurt, you can take a probiotic supplement. Look for one with 75 billion CFUs and multiple probiotic strains, such as Global Healing Center’s Floratrex™.
B-12 & Folate-Rich Foods
Deficiencies in B-12 and folate (B-9) can increase your risk of getting canker sores. It follows that ensuring you get enough may help. Eating a healthy, plant-based diet that provides these important nutrients will keep your immune system on an even keel.
How to use: Good sources of folate include leafy green vegetables, beans, peas, lemons, and bananas. Vitamin B-12 is mainly found in animal foods, so look for a plant-based supplement, such as VeganSafe™ B-12. Ensuring you get enough essential vitamins is an excellent preventative measure you can take.
How to use: If you have a canker sore, take zinc daily in the form of lozenges. A regular supplement of this essential mineral may also help.
An effective antiseptic, hydrogen peroxide can help reduce the number of harmful bacteria in your mouth. This can prevent mouth sores from developing secondary infections.
How to use: Mix 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution with one equal part of water. Dip a cotton swab into this mixture, then apply to the surface of the canker sore. It may sting and bubble a little, but it’s super effective at getting those germs! You can also gargle a mixture of ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide and ¼ cup of water with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda.
The sap of the aloe vera plant acts as a natural antibiotic while also providing welcome relief. Aloe gel also contains aspirin-like salicylates, which reduce discomfort and swelling. Salicylic acid helps by forming a tougher layer on top of the sore that makes it less sensitive. Aloe vera is an extremely effective agent in soothing sores in the mouth’s soft tissue.
How to use: Apply a dab of food-grade aloe vera gel directly onto the canker sore using a cotton swab. You can also make a mouthwash using 2 tablespoons aloe vera juice and 1 teaspoon of baking soda, mixed into 1/2 cup of warm water. Swish the mixture in your mouth once daily.
The anti-inflammatory properties of chamomile can help reduce the discomfort, redness, and swelling of canker sores. Whether you drink a cup of chamomile tea or use the tea bags, you will soon feel the soothing effects.
How to use: Apply a used, still-wet chamomile tea bag as a compress onto your canker sore. You can also swish your mouth with lukewarm chamomile tea 3 to 4 times daily.
A relative of the mint family, sage possesses antioxidant, astringent, and anti-microbial properties. It can help balance the flora in the mouth, along with the overall immune system. It's known to help canker sores.
How to use: Make a rinse for your mouth by mixing 2 teaspoons of dried sage into 1 cup of warm water. Swish the mixture inside your mouth for a minute or two, then spit out.
How to use: Mix 1 teaspoon of liquid echinacea and 1 teaspoon of warm water to form mouth rinse. Gargle 3 times a day. You can also rinse with echinacea tea.
Honey has outstanding antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Honey is very effective at relieving pain, while also reducing canker sore size and redness.
How to use: Apply a small amount of raw, unpasteurized, unfiltered honey (preferably raw manuka honey) to the lesion 3 to 4 times daily.
While it won’t heal your sore any faster, ice chips can help ease and numb the discomfort and keep the swelling down when applied to a canker sore.
How to use: Do not place the ice directly onto a canker sore. Wrap it in a paper towel and apply it onto the affected area.
Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
The acetic acid in organic raw apple cider vinegar has natural antibiotic properties. It deters harmful bacteria in the mouth and promotes a healthy microbiota in your body. Use with caution since the acid may irritate canker sores in some people.
How to use: Mix equal parts warm water with apple cider vinegar to make a mouth rinse. Gargle with it once per day to speed up healing.
How to use: Add 1 teaspoon of dried goldthread root to 1 cup of boiling water and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Use the resulting mixture as a mouth rinse.
Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL)
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) extract can rapidly heal mucous membranes. Some people have even experienced up to 75 percent improvement of canker sores within one day. Licorice in its natural state contains glycyrrhizin, which can cause blood pressure elevation in some cases, so many people like to buy deglycyrrhizinated licorice or DGL.
How to use: DGL comes in powder or tablets. Mix a tiny amount of water with the DGL powder and apply it topically to your mouth sore.
You may know cloves as a spice in pumpkin pie, but cloves amazing healing powers deserve special attention. Cloves contain a substance called eugenol that’s well-known for its numbing and antimicrobial properties. And that can extend to your canker sores. Clove has been used traditionally for oral health, including toothache, bad breath, and other mouth concerns.
How to Use: Apply a drop of pure clove oil directly to the canker sore, using a cotton swab. You will feel a numbing sensation very shortly after application.
General Tips to Follow With Canker Sores
- Avoid carbonated drinks: Sugar, corn syrup, and phosphoric acid are all ingredients found in carbonated beverages that raise the pH in your mouth and promote inflammation. This can lead to canker sores.
- Avoid acidic, spicy and salty foods: Salty chips and pretzels, acidic fruits like tomatoes, strawberries, and pineapples, and spicy foods that contain hot peppers can aggravate an outbreak of canker sores in your mouth.
- Minimize stress: Reducing stress will cut your likelihood of getting a canker sore. Try meditation or yoga. And get into the habit of taking deep breaths.
- Take nutritional supplements: Vitamin C supplements can help heal your mouth's mucous membranes. B-complex vitamins are also helpful.
Top Canker Sore Causes
Several things cause canker sores. The following are the most common triggers.
Food Allergies & Sensitivities: Try to avoid foods that are spicy or acidic like citrus fruit, coffee, and chocolate. Canker sores can sometimes be a symptom of gluten intolerance or even celiac disease. Try cutting out certain foods and see if it reduces their occurrence.
Nutritional Deficiencies: A lack of nutrients, essential vitamins and minerals like folic acid, vitamin B-12, iron, and zinc can cause canker sores.
Stress: Emotional stress is a well-known trigger of canker sores.
Oral Care: Oral health care products like toothpaste or mouthwash that contain sodium lauryl sulfate can lead to both the formation and re-occurrence of canker sores. Canker sores can also develop from an injury caused by dental work or abrasive dental hygiene.
Hormonal Changes: The onset of the menstrual cycle can trigger cold sores, as can pregnancy and menopause.
How Long Do Canker Sores Last?
Most canker sores usually take up to two weeks to heal completely. The first three to four days are usually the most difficult. About 80 percent of canker sores heal in 7 to 14 days.
Rarely, canker sores indicate a much more serious condition, such as an immune system deficiency. If several weeks have passed with continued symptoms, consult your healthcare provider.
Points to Remember
About 20 percent of the general population will develop canker sores in their lifetime. Women are more susceptible than men for unknown reasons. While these blisters of the mouth can cause eating and swallowing to be very uncomfortable, most types are harmless and will go away on their own with minimal intervention.
However, you can take measures to minimize canker sore recurrence or the associated discomfort. These include eating a diet rich in iron, folate, and B vitamins. You can also drink chamomile tea and eat probiotic yogurt, honey, or ice chips. Helpful herbs include sage, echinacea, goldthread, and licorice.
What have you used to deal with canker sores? What has helped you? Share your experiences below!
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.