We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
Canker sores can be painful and irritating. Although they should heal without treatment, there are remedies for speeding up this process and reducing discomfort.
Several home remedies can help a person soothe the irritation of canker sores and help them heal, including over-the-counter (OTC) gels, mouth rinses, and supplements.
A canker sore is a small ulcer inside the mouth. It may be white or gray with red edges. Canker sores usually develop on the soft parts of the mouth, such as the tongue, the insides of the cheeks, and just inside the lips. They can appear alone or in a cluster.
Canker sores are not contagious and usually heal without treatment in 7–10 days.
In this article, we discuss nine tried and tested ways to help soothe canker sores.
Canker sores should heal without treatment. However, there are ways to relieve pain, speed up healing, and prevent infection.
The options below can help improve quality of life for a person with these painful ulcers. However, canker sores often come back, and no one therapy works for every case.
Options that may help include:
1. Using an OTC gel or patch
A person can apply OTC medication directly to the canker sore, usually in the form of a gel or a paste. This prevents the ulcer from irritation caused by spicy or acidic food, as well as by touching.
A person can also place specialized patches or bandages over the canker sore. These stick to the inside of the mouth and protect the ulcer from irritation.
2. Using a mouth rinse
Rinsing the mouth with an OTC rinse can help a person keep the area clean and provide relief from pain or discomfort.
A person should choose a mouth rinse with antiseptic properties. This can help prevent infection and numb painful sensations inside of the mouth.
3. Using a salt rinse
People may choose to use a natural alternative, such as a salt solution, to promote healing.
Rinsing the mouth with a salt solution should not replace using medicated mouthwash if the symptoms have become uncomfortable. However, it may help keep the mouth clean.
4. Practicing dental hygiene with a soft brush
Looking after the mouth and being careful not to damage the canker sores can speed up the healing process.
Using a soft toothbrush can help prevent irritating canker sores. Maintaining good oral hygiene by keeping the teeth and gums clean can prevent ulcers from developing an infection.
5. Taking vitamin B-12 supplements
A small study from 2015 found that taking a vitamin B-12 supplement significantly reduced canker sore pain.
6. Drinking chamomile tea with honey
At the moment, there is limited scientific evidence of their benefits in treating ulcers, so people should not use them in place of medication. However, if these remedies improve symptoms on an individual basis, they are safe to continue using.
Chamomile may have anti-inflammatory properties. A person can use chamomile as a canker sore remedy by brewing a strong chamomile tea and using it to rinse the mouth after cooling. They can also soak a chamomile tea bag in warm water and apply this directly to the ulcer.
Honey may also have antiseptic properties. A person can apply honey directly to a canker sore, and they may wish to combine it with chamomile in a tea.
7. Avoiding certain foods
A person with canker sores should avoid eating very spicy, salty, or acidic foods. These may irritate the ulcers and slow healing.
Hot drinks and food with rough edges, such as a piece of toast, might also cause discomfort.
8. Using aloe vera
Applying aloe vera gel directly to the canker sore may help soothe irritation, as well as reduce pain and inflammation.
Although there is limited scientific evidence on the benefits of aloe vera for canker sores, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health consider it a safe option.
9. Numbing the mouth
People can suck on ice chips or apply them to a canker sore to relieve some of the pain and discomfort, as the cold will numb the sensation.
However, always melt the surface of an ice cube slightly before applying them directly to ulcers.
Single mouth ulcers can develop when someone damages the inside of their mouth, such as from accidental biting or wearing a poorly fitting denture.
Canker sores are different. They occur repeatedly and may not always have a clear cause.
Some people get canker sores regularly, while others do not get them at all.
Risk factors for recurrent canker sores may include:
Most canker sores will resolve without treatment and are not usually a sign of a severe medical condition. However, a person should seek consultation with a doctor if the following occur:
- The sores last for longer than 3 weeks.
- The sores cause difficulty when swallowing.
- A person with canker sores starts to feel unwell.
- Canker sores develop regularly over a long period of time.
In some cases, canker sores can be a sign of an underlying health concern, including gastrointestinal conditions. If someone has any of the following symptoms, they should talk to a doctor:
unexplained tiredness for more than a few days
- a rash or sore on another part of the body
- irritation in the eyes
- stomach pain
If canker sores become particularly red and painful, this could be a sign of infection.
Canker sores can be painful and irritating, especially if they occur frequently. Keeping track of when they occur and any possible triggers may help a person work out if there is an underlying cause they can avoid.
In the meantime, a person can try a variety of home remedies and OTC solutions to ease pain and discomfort.
Keeping OTC medication and some natural remedies on hand means that a person can begin to tackle ulcers and canker sores as soon as they appear.
SHOP FOR CANKER SORE REMEDIES
Some of the treatments in this article are available for purchase online:
Do canker sores ever bleed?
Yes, they do bleed. Accidentally scraping the sore while brushing the teeth can cause bleeding. Any irritation or scraping to the sore area can cause minimal bleeding, but this should not be excessive.
Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.