Have you ever had a sore spot on the inside of your mouth, but you weren’t sure what it was? Chances are, you’ve had a canker sore. What are these small sores? Are canker sores contagious, and why do we get them? Can you pop a canker sore? Most importantly, how do you make canker sores go away?
If you get canker sores and you’re not sure what to do about them, then you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know, including their causes and how to get rid of a canker sore.
What Is a Canker Sore?
So, what exactly is a canker sore? A canker sore – whose scientific name is aphthous stomatitis – is a painful ulcer that develops inside the mouth. Most commonly, canker sores occur on the gums, the inner cheeks, or on the inside of the lips. However, canker sores can occur anywhere in the mouth.
What do canker sores look like? When you look at a canker sore, you will see a white or yellow dot that can range in size from a tiny pinprick to several millimeters in width. The area surrounding the canker sore may seem red and irritated. Generally, canker sores are round or oval in shape. They are not filled with fluid and cannot be popped.
How long do these pesky ulcers last? Canker sores can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. During their duration, sores can be extremely painful and make it difficult to talk, eat, and drink.
Though the majority of canker sores are short-lived and don’t cause any other symptoms aside from localized pain, some cases are more involved. Though it’s rare, severe canker sores may be accompanied by fever and fatigue.
Canker Sore vs Cold Sore: Are They the Same Thing?
It’s easy to mix up canker sores and cold sores, but it’s important to recognize that they are not the same thing.
Canker sores are small bacterial infections that occur inside the mouth, and they are not contagious. On the other hand, cold sores or fever blisters are caused by the type 1 herpes simplex virus, are highly contagious, and occur on the outside of the mouth.
Cold sores can be passed between people by contact with someone who currently has an active sore. Cold sores affect a significant proportion of the population because many people got cold sores from their parents as babies. For example, if a parent has cold sores and kisses their baby’s foot, the baby can contract the virus.
Interestingly, however, both canker sores and cold sores have similar triggers. For example, an episode of either canker sores or cold sores can be brought on by stress.
Triggers and Causes of Canker Sores
Certain people tend to be prone to canker sores, though medical professionals are unsure of the exact cause. Individuals tend to experience different triggers for canker sores. Here are a few of the common triggers and causes that seem to be associated with canker sores.
- Genetics: For some reason, canker sores appear to be prevalent in families. Individuals who have family members with canker sores tend to be at a higher risk of developing them.
- Acidic fruits: Though fruits contain healthy vitamins and minerals, a lot of fruits also contain acid. Individuals who are prone to canker sores tend to be sensitive to the acid content of certain fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, tomato, and pineapple.
- Biting your lip: Biting your lip by accident is a common cause of canker sores. When you accidentally bite your lip while chewing food, a small wound forms on the inside of your mouth. The small wound is vulnerable to bacteria that are naturally present in the mouth, which can increase the likelihood of developing a canker sore.
- Brushing your teeth too hard: Brushing your teeth too vigorously can create small scrapes on your gums and mouth, which can create opportunities for bacteria to enter these small cuts. Scrapes within the mouth can lead to the development of canker sores.
- Stress: Though the exact mechanism is unknown, stress seems to trigger canker sores. When we experience stress, the body’s defense mechanisms don’t work as well. This means that the immune system doesn’t function as efficiently as usual, which can raise the likelihood of developing a canker sore.
Treatment: How to Get Rid of a Canker Sore
When you develop one of these painful canker sores, your immune system will take care of the sore in a matter of days or weeks. However, until it’s resolved, the sore can be extraordinarily painful. Thankfully, there are some options for managing the pain and symptoms, while also encouraging your body to heal the sore. The Mayo Clinic suggests lots of helpful ways to manage symptoms and encourage healing. (1)
1. Salt Water Rinse
A salt water mouth rinse is one of the most effective home remedies for treating canker sores. You can prepare your own salt water mouthwash by mixing warm water with a teaspoon or so of salt. Mix until the salt has dissolved into the warm water. Then gently swish the salt solution around your mouth, and ensure that it makes contact with the canker sore. Salt is known to have antibacterial properties and help promote healing.
Can you put salt on a canker sore directly? You can, though it may be a little more irritating to the delicate skin inside the mouth. A gentle salt water rinse is effective without being overly abrasive.
2. Baking Soda Rinse
A baking soda rinse is an effective alternative to a salt water rinse to help manage aphthous ulcers. Prepare a baking soda solution by putting a small spoonful of baking soda in a cup of warm water. Similar to salt water, baking soda solution helps clean the canker sore.
3. Avoiding Spicy Foods and Acidic Foods
Avoiding spicy and acidic foods can help reduce irritation surrounding your mouth sores, allowing them to heal more effectively. For example, it’s important to stay away from citrus fruits, pineapple, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, and jalapeno.
4. Avoid Crunchy or Rough Foods
When you have a canker sore, aim to stay away from crunchy and rough foods that may scratch your mouth ulcer and further irritate the sore. This can delay healing and prolong your uncomfortable symptoms.
5. Vitamin C and Zinc Lozenges
Vitamin C and zinc lozenges are effective natural remedies for boosting your immune system. Though they don’t directly appease your symptoms, vitamin C and zinc can support your immune system response to ward off the canker sore earlier than later.
6. Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pain Relievers
For very painful aphthous sores, OTC medications help provide some relief. Orajel is a topical cream that can help numb the area and provide relief from pain. Ibuprofen tablets may help reduce pain as well as inflammation and irritation.
7. Benadryl and Milk of Magnesia Ointment
You can prepare your own ulcer ointment by mixing two OTC medicines: Benadryl and milk of magnesia. Benadryl is an antihistamine commonly used to soothe allergic reactions, while milk of magnesia is an antacid used to neutralize stomach acid and soothe associated pain. This canker sore remedy can be utilized as either an ointment to be applied directly to the cold sore, or as a mouth rinse.
8. Ice Chips
To help relieve canker sore pain, try eating cold foods to help reduce inflammation and irritation. Ice chips or cold foods like frozen yogurt can help soothe your sores.
9. Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is a useful canker sore remedy that can help speed healing and support recovery from canker sores. Hydrogen peroxide has antiseptic properties that can help speed up the healing time of the canker sore. Dilute hydrogen peroxide with water to create a canker sore remedy. Using a cotton swab to gently dab the ulcer with the dilute hydrogen peroxide solution.
10. Use Gentle Toothpaste
Toothpaste containing harsh ingredients can further irritate your canker sores and potentially get in the way of the healing process. Choose a very gentle or natural toothpaste such as Sensodyne. Additionally, it’s important to brush your teeth gently so as not to irritate the canker sore.
11. Green Tea Rinses
Green tea is known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties that are useful for reversing many disease processes associated with fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome. As a result, green tea is an excellent natural remedy for canker sores. Brew a cup of green tea, and allow it to cool. Use some of the tea as a mouthwash, while drinking the rest. Alternatively, try soaking a green tea bag and freezing it before applying it directly to your mouth sore. If you don’t have green tea on hand, try black tea or chamomile tea.
12. Aloe Vera Gel
If you have a painful canker sore, try applying aloe vera gel to the sore. Make sure that the aloe vera gel is appropriate to be used for oral sores within the mouth. A study published in the Dental Research Journal suggests that using aloe vera on aphthous ulcers helps decrease the healing time while also improving the size and severity of the ulcer. (2)
13. Licorice Extract
Applying a bit of dilute licorice extract to your canker sore may help reduce inflammation and quell the pain. A randomized controlled trial showed that individuals who applied a licorice extract patch to their canker sore experienced significantly less pain in comparison to the control group. (3)
14. H. Pylori Treatment
Research demonstrates that the development of canker sores may be due to the presence of Helicobacter pylori bacteria in stomach acid as well as in saliva. Undergoing treatment for H. Pylori may help existing canker sores resolve more quickly as well as prevent the formation of more canker sores. Ask your doctor about getting tested for H. Pylori bacteria, especially if you have stubborn, recurring, and frequent canker sores. (4)
When to Visit the Doctor
On their own, canker sores are benign, are self-limiting, and not a cause for concern. However, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor if your canker sores are very frequent, consistently take weeks to heal, are accompanied by other symptoms, or interfere with your daily life. Your physician will be able to determine whether an underlying condition is causing the canker sores, and prescribe medications to mitigate the symptoms.
How to Prevent Canker Sores
What’s better than treating canker sores? Preventing them in the first place. Although there is no sure way to prevent the development of a canker sore, there are strategies to make it less likely.
- Getting plenty of sleep: When you don’t get enough sleep, all of the processes in your body function less effectively. Getting plenty of sleep is vital for supporting healthy immune function and helps your immune system fight off impending canker sores.
- Lower stress levels: Although stress is an inevitable part of everybody’s life, there are ways to manage stress levels to ensure that it doesn’t get the best of you and impact your immune function. You can keep your stress levels in check by participating in yoga and meditation, deep breathing, and exercising regularly.
- A balanced diet: The foods you eat help promote healthy immune system activity. Eating a diet that is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, and fiber can fortify immune health and help prevent the development of a canker sore.
- Vitamin B complex: Because aphthous stomatitis can be associated with low levels of folic acid and vitamin B12, it’s a good idea to incorporate a vitamin B complex vitamin into your daily regimen.
- Looking after your dental health: Taking care of your dental hygiene can help minimize the growth of bacteria in the mouth, therefore decreasing the odds of developing a canker sore. Rinsing regularly with mouthwash can help prevent bacterial growth and canker sores as well. However, it’s critical to brush and floss your teeth gently. Overly vigorous brushing and flossing can create tiny wounds through which bacteria can enter, resulting in canker sores.
How to Get Rid of Canker Sores: Conclusion
Canker sores, also known as aphthous stomatitis, are very painful sores that develop inside the mouth. You can get rid of canker sores by using a variety of at-home remedies and OTC medications. As uncomfortable as canker sores are, remember that they are not contagious and are completely benign. You can also help prevent the recurrence of canker sores by following simple diet changes. However, if you notice recurrent, severe, and numerous canker sores that do not resolve, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor just to make sure there are no underlying conditions causing the sores.