A bowl of honey.
Honey has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, which can speed up the healing process of a canker sore.

At-Home Treatment for Canker Sores

Canker sores are a common problem and are not usually a cause for concern. However, they can be painful and interfere with everyday activities, such as talking and eating. Therefore, people suffering from canker sores will usually be keen to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Luckily, an at-home treatment for canker sores can do the trick. There are numerous at-home treatments for canker sores, which we will explain in this article.

What is a Canker Sore?

A canker sore is also known as an aphthous ulcer. It is a type of lesion that occurs inside the mouth, either on the cheeks, gums, tongue, or soft palate. They are round or oval and have a white or yellow center surrounded by a red border.

Although these lesions are usually small and shallow, they can be extremely painful. They can interfere with talking and eating, and they tend to last for one to two weeks. However, in severe cases, these sores may take up to six weeks to fully heal.

Some people experience a tingling or burning sensation in the mouth one to two days before a canker sore appears.

At-Home Treatment Options for Canker Sores

In most cases, canker sores go away within a few weeks without treatment. However, there are several home treatments that may help to reduce pain and speed up the healing process. Although there is little scientific evidence to support most of these remedies, many people swear by them.

1. Ice

Sucking on pieces of ice and holding it against the sore is a safe way to relieve pain while waiting for a canker sore to heal.

2. Saltwater

Saltwater rinses can help dry out a canker sore and may help to speed up healing. Mix one teaspoon of salt in half a cup of warm water and allow it to dissolve. Swish it around the mouth for 15 to 30 seconds, then spit it out. Repeat several times a day.

3. Baking Soda

Baking soda rinses are another option. Baking soda helps to neutralize acidity in the mouth, which may help to relieve pain and speed healing. Mix one teaspoon of baking soda in half a cup of warm water and allow it to dissolve. Swish it around the mouth for 15 to 30 seconds, then spit it out. Repeat several times a day.

4. Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is another home treatment that may help to reduce the healing time of canker sores. Use 3% hydrogen peroxide mixed with an equal amount of water to rinse the mouth several times daily. Do not swallow. It is also possible to dab diluted hydrogen peroxide directly onto the sore.

5. Alum Powder

Alum powder is an ingredient that people use to preserve and pickle food. It contains potassium aluminium sulfate, which has astringent properties. This means that it could help to dry out the sore and promote healing. Mix a pea-sized amount of alum powder with a drop of water to make a paste. Apply it directly to the sore, leave for around one minute, then rinse your mouth with water. Repeat this treatment once daily until the sore has healed.

6. Milk of Magnesia

Milk of magnesia contains magnesium hydroxide, which can reduce acidity in the mouth. Dab a small amount directly onto the sore and leave it for a few seconds before rinsing the mouth with water. Repeat the treatment three times daily. Some people recommend mixing milk of magnesia with a small amount of antihistamine, such as Benadryl, to reduce inflammation.

7. Chamomile

Chamomile is an herbal remedy with soothing, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Soak a chamomile teabag in water and use it as a compress, or brew a cup of chamomile tea and use it as a mouth rinse. Repeat three to four times daily.

8. Honey

Honey is known for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory effects. Applying it to a canker sore four times daily may help to speed up the healing process. However, most store-bought honey is pasteurized, meaning it will have lost most of its therapeutic effects. For the best results, choose a high-quality product, like Manuka honey.

9. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has antimicrobial properties and could help to prevent bacteria from spreading. It acts as a natural anti-inflammatory treatment too. Apply it generously to the sore several times a day until it heals.

10. Zinc Lozenges

Zinc is one of the most important nutrients for the immune system. It can help improve immunity and prevent the spread of harmful bacteria inside the mouth. Follow the instructions on the product’s packaging and do not exceed the maximum daily dose.

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Over-the-Counter Remedies

There are plenty of over-the-counter remedies that can help to relieve pain while a canker sore heals. They include gels, pastes, liquids and mouth rinses with a variety of different active ingredients. Ask a pharmacist to recommend a product based on your individual needs.

Canker Sore Prevention

There are also several steps you can take to reduce the risk of canker sores:

  • Maintain good dental hygiene by brushing the teeth twice daily and flossing regularly.
  • Brush the teeth gently, using a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Avoid toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulfate.
  • Ensure braces and dentures fit correctly.
  • Avoid irritating foods, especially those that are acidic, salty, or spicy.
  • Ask a doctor to test for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and take supplements if necessary.
  • Practice stress management techniques, like breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga.

What Causes Canker Sores?

Canker sores are not contagious, and their precise cause is still not fully understood. However, there are a number of factors that may contribute to their development:

  • Injury to the mouth (bites, bumps, excessive brushing, dental work, etc.).
  • Poorly fitting braces or dentures.
  • Toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulfate.
  • Food sensitivity (e.g., spicy, salty, or acidic food, coffee, chocolate, eggs, nuts, cheese).
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiency (B3, B12, folate, calcium, iron, zinc).
  • Infection with Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes gastric ulcers.
  • Hormonal changes.
  • Smoking.
  • Medication.
  • Stress.

People with some medical conditions may also be more prone to canker sores, including celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune conditions, HIV/AIDS and other immune disorders.

Although canker sores are not usually anything to worry about, occasionally they could be a sign of an underlying condition. See a doctor or dentist if you have canker sores that do not heal or recur frequently, get progressively worse over time, or are accompanied by swollen lymph nodes, fever, diarrhea, rash, or headaches.