These were such a common part of my childhood, I thought everyone was familiar, but as a family health practitioner I am learning not everyone is so familiar. These shallow, painful sores are typically on the insides of your lips or cheeks or under your tongue, although may be occasionally be found on the tongue or gums. These are canker sores or #aphthous ulcers. They are red and may have a white or yellow coating.
These are not the same as "fever blisters" or "cold sores" which are more typically on the outside of your lips or the corners of your mouth. Anyone can get #canker sores, but individuals in their teens and twenties tend to get them more often, as do women. They do tend to run in families, but they aren't contagious. We really don't know what causes them, although there are many theories such as stress and sugar.
Other thoughts as to why these occur are sodium lauryl sulfate (#SLS), a chemical additive in toothpastes and mouthwashes. Check your mouth care products and eliminate these if you may be exposed. Food sensitivities are another cause, with strawberries, eggs, chocolate, nuts, coffee, and cheese being more common culprits but any number of foods and chemicals can cause these, and we can test 300 if you have particular interest.
A variety of vitamin deficiencies may also be an underlying cause such as low iron, #folate, or vitamin B-12. These are a routine part of our wellness evaluation so if your doctor hasn't checked these, we'd be happy to offer a consult on complete wellness. Hormones are another cause, which may be why women suffer more canker sores particular prior and during their menses.
Simple trauma such as aggressive brushing can also be cause, wearing a mouth guard or chewing bubble gum. Smoking and chew are other forms of oral trauma so quitting this habit may be the key. Don't poke at the canker sore with your tongue as much as this is tempting and of course, avoid spicy and acidic foods. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Eat nutritious and clean foods. Practice calming exercises and meditate to limit stress.
Remedies for Canker Sores, both Natural and Not-so-Natural
These are a nuisance more than anything, as they are painful. These cause pain when you are trying to eat or even talk. Many practitioners will recommend an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, although Orabase (synthetic corticosteroid) and Zilactin-B (bioadhesive barrier) are topical options which can reduce irritation when eating, drinking or brushing your teeth. You can also mix equal amounts of Milk of Magnesia and Benadryl Allergy liquid, then swish a teaspoon in your mouth for about a minute. Spit and repeat in four to six hours if still painful.
Generally individuals will treat this at home unless they are especially large, many, or lasting more than a week. Sometimes they do become so sore that one has difficulty eating. If you have a fever or begin feeling sick with canker sores, these are other reasons to connect with your primary care provider. We can then offer a prescription or additional tips for treatment.
Easy home remedies though are the simple use of salt water. At first site of a canker sore, swish with salt water to disinfect and relieve some of the pain, potentially even speeding up the healing process. A teaspoon of sea salt in half a cup of warm water will work perfectly and then swish for about 30 seconds, swish and rinse.
Fenugreek is another popular home remedy. This is a botanical often used to support breastfeeding, but also a delicious ingredient in many curries. Try a teaspoon of #fenugreek seed in a cup of cold water and then swishing this mixture around inside your mouth. Basil is anti-microbial so can also help calm canker sores. Soak them in hot water and then use them in a mouthwash similar to the suggestions above.
Although we say to avoid spicy foods, #cayenne pepper is the exception. Capsaicin within the cayenne can reduce inflammation and inhibit bacterial growth. We use cayenne for so many remedies in botanical medicine, but for this purpose, add it to water to make a paste and then use a cotton swab to apply directly to the canker sore two or three times a day.
Baking soda is alkaline, so it can neutralize acids in your mouth and even kill some bacteria which may speed healing. A teaspoon in a half cup of warm water is the recipe and then swish and rinse.
Chamomile tea, sage, #manuka honey, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera, and clove oil are other common remedies. No surprise, great probiotics is recommended. Cultured yogurt can offer the cool relief and the soothing coolness to relieve some of your irritation. Keep this up even after the lesion heals to support your immune system.
Zinc is the go to supplement for any skin irritation or disorder, especially when this seems consistent. Studies have shown zinc can reduce outbreak by at least half, sometimes completely. Lozenges may be a great option.