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Remedies to Conquer Canker Sores

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Canker sores (aka aphthous ulcers) are one of life's little mysteries. Experts estimate that roughly one out of five people put up with these painful mouth lesions. Some suffer more than others:

"My husband has canker sores in his mouth all the time. The specialists we have been to say it is not curable and he just has to live with them. We have tried many topical remedies plus some prescription drugs without benefit.

"He is not sleeping well because of the pain and desperately needs some relief. We enjoy reading the remedies you share and wonder if you might have some suggestions that could help us now."

The cause of canker sores is unknown, though citrus fruits, trauma to the mouth and weakened immunity have been blamed for these painful mouth lesions. Some research suggests that nutritional deficiencies (B vitamins or iron) may be partially responsible.
Although they normally last about a week to 10 days, some people are plagued by these sores for much longer periods of time. The pain and irritation can be so severe that eating solid food can be almost impossible.

Some readers believe that a foaming agent (SLS or sodium lauryl sulfate) found in many toothpastes contributes to the problem: "My sister and daughter suffered from severe canker sores for years. My sister's doctor told her to stop using toothpaste with SLS. Now, both my daughter and sister have very few outbreaks." Despite such a testimonial, research is equivocal regarding the benefits of using SLS-free toothpaste (Oral Diseases, Jan. 1999).

Others are convinced that sugar is the culprit and cutting back on cookies and candy is the answer. Some readers believe nuts trigger an attack: "I also suffered from massive canker sores. I finally realized that five days after eating walnuts the cankers would appear. Now I never touch the nuts and no sores!"

Many people believe the solution lies in the amino acid supplement L-lysine despite a lack of scientific evidence: "I had troubles for years with canker sores. A friend told me to start talking L-lysine twice a day at the first sign of a canker sore. It stops canker sores from getting larger and heals them within a day or two."

Although these home remedies have not been tested, some people report success with swishing their mouths with an ounce of sauerkraut juice in the morning and evening, then swallowing about a tablespoonful: "It is an unusual cure for canker sores, but I had a recurring sore that went away overnight after the first use of sauerkraut juice. And, you can have wieners and kraut with the leftovers."

Another option is buttermilk: "My oldest son used to get canker sores a lot. My mother-in-law gave us the ultimate cure that worked overnight. Swish cultured buttermilk in the mouth and hold it for about a minute then spit it out. We don't know why it works, but it does."

We have even heard that kiwi fruit helps: "My husband got a canker sore on Thursday and we bought a few kiwis to try this cure. He ate one kiwi in the morning, and by the mid-afternoon the sore was dried up. A second kiwi wasn't needed. Amazing."

Since there is no standard medical cure for canker sores, trying an inexpensive home remedy may be worth considering.

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51 Comments

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I am surprised, Terry & Joe, that in your response the possibility of having Celiac Disease was not mentioned as Apothus Ulcers is one of the symptoms of that disease, & seeing a physician for a Celiac Blood Panel test was not suggested.

However, I have found that using a combination of a small amount of hydrogen peroxide mixed with equal parts of water, or glyoxide, which can be bought in the dental supplies area of any drugstore, swished around in the mouth for a few minutes & then spit out, can help to relieve the discomfort, & shorten the time before the mouth ulcers disappear.

I used to have canker sores regularly which would last one to two weeks. About fifteen years ago while having my teeth cleaned and examined my dental hygienist notice that I had a canker sore and asked how often it happened and how long they lasted. She said that she used L-Lysene whenever one began. It would stop it cold. I got a bottle of L-Lysene tablets and took one a day for three days when the canker sore cleared up.

I wasn't sure that it didn't clear up on its own. In about a month later a canker sore started and I took an L-Lysene tablet in the morning and by evening it was gone. This happened several time for the next year and then I have only experience one or two beginning canker sores since then which I took an L-Lysene tablet with the same results. I haven't experienced a Canker sore in the last several years. I keep my L-Lysene tablets at the ready, just in case, in the drawer along with my vitamins.

At one time my grandson had recurring canker sores; he was also suffering from heartburn. It was found out, after the necessary medical tests, that he had celiac disease. He takes care of that with diet and hasn't had a recurrence of any canker sores.

I had suffered from canker sores in my mouth since childhood. Sometimes there would be multiple sores and I could hardly sleep. In my thirties a friend recommended that I try a brand of toothpaste with baking soda in it. I did and have been canker sore free for years. I am now 60.

I have been using the toothpaste biotene which does not have the SLS in it. I have noticed a big difference. I cause trauma to my mouth when I sleep, sucking my mouth in and causing sores from my teeth. I also regularly rinse with warm salt water. Together, this has helped tremendously. Definitely give the toothpaste a try.

I swish Hydrogen peroxide in my mouth in the a.m. and p.m. and this stops canker sores. If I forget to do this, the canker sores return in a few days. If a canker sore does appear again, I just repeat the process.

When I get a Canker sore I use hot water from the tap and add salt, swish in my mouth for awhile then spit it out and do that a few times. The Canker sore usually goes away in a couple of hours.

CS

Years ago, my then 10 year old son, had a major outbreak of sores in his mouth. They were everywhere. He was unable to eat for two days. I took him to a children's clinic where an East Indian doctor examined him. The doctor suggested buying a bottle of green label Karo syrup, and to hold some in this mouth, swishing it around.

All pain was gone in no time at all. Within an hour my son was eating and consumed three hot dogs and a can on tomato soup with crackers. The sores disappeared the following day, never to return.

I had canker sores so bad that I lost 15 pounds in a week due to inability to eat. The doctor just dabbed them with a silver nitrate stick, which cauterizes them and they quickly heal, but new ones came every few days and going to the doctor every few days is not possible. Desperate, I went to a veterinarian and told him my dog had this problem. He gave me about 20 of the silver nitrate sticks for just a few dollars. That enabled me to get the immediate outbreak under control.

Longer term several things I have found that help include using only the softest toothbrush you can find, avoid hard chips or other scratchy foods, L-lysine does help me (large doses), gargle with Listerine every day and proactively begin putting ambesol or other oral treatment on the site of any mouth/lip/tongue injury, cut or scratch before the canker sore forms. Also use lip balm of some sort when out in the sun because dry lips can allow cuts to form and the viruses opportunistically infect any opening in the lining of the mouth/lips/tongue.

Good luck, this is a lifetime fight, but with enough care it becomes only an irritant, not a huge issue.

Years ago I had severe, unrelenting canker sores like the husband mentioned. Nothing helped. I was barely able to eat or speak normally. Finally, I asked my doctor about getting an old-fashioned smallpox vaccination. He doubted it would work, but referred me to a pediatrician. The pediatrician also doubted a vaccination would work but, thankfully, he complied. I had reaction to the vaccination (i.e., it took) and after that my canker sores disappeared completely for years. Decades later I get an occasional canker sore, but it always clears up quickly.

Our family uses alum with fairly good success for canker sores. Alum is a white powder available in the spice section of the grocery store. I believe it is used to make pickles. Place a tiny pinch of it directly on the sore, and try to let it remain for a minute or so before rinsing (it has a sour taste.) If used early, it seems to cauterize the sore and help it heal faster. I haven't noticed any difference immediately after using it, but by the next day, there's often a dramatic improvement. I'm a dental hygienist, and this is a remedy I've learned from my patients.

(Thanks Joe and Terry, love the People's Pharmacy!)

I've had trouble off and on with canker sores. One on the inside of my cheek had to be surgically removed. Since then, I've discovered that taking vitamin C (which seems to contradict possibility of their being caused by citrus fruit) prevents them. 1,000 mg/day for prevention, and 2,000 mg/day (if I've become lax in taking the preventive dose) to clear them up is what works for me. So far, at least...

I, too suffered from canker sores beginning in childhood. At times, they were so bad I couldn't eat, then my mom would take me to the Dr. and they would cauterize them so they would quit growing larger and heal.

As a kid, my folks used cream of tartar on them, which stung like the dickens but then they would heal.

As an adult, I started using baking soda tooth powder that used to be made by Arm & Hammer. After a while, I quit getting them. I haven't had one in years now.

As a cancer patient being treated with periodic chemo infusions plus radiation, one of the side effects are mouth sores. During the first chemo infusion I used what my oncologist suggested: food choices that soothed; Duke's mouthwash (Rx). When it did not seem to help I did my own research and discovered a different therapy which improved the healing and therefore the pain of the sores.

This recent (second/last) infusion my mouth sores are severe and my throat is not as sore, which enables me to eat solid soft food to maintain my weight. My new daily regime: homeopathic tooth paste that I rub on my gums before gently brushing my teeth; 2 oz. of Aloe Vera Juice (organic); L-Glutamine (amino acid) twice a day. Although I am not allowed to use any anti-oxidant vitamins, I can take liquid Vitamin B Complex, Omega 3 fish oil (highly refined), Vitamin D, and liquid calcium with Magnesium.

I suffered from canker sores for years until I started taking Red Raspberry Leaves Supplements for other reasons and later realized I wasn't having anymore canker sores. I have stayed on the Red Raspberry Leaves for the past 10 years and no longer have the pain of canker sores.

I've found L-lysine helpful, plus avoiding salted surfaces, excess citrus or other acids, and all food coloring. For about 6 months now the biggest break-through for me, that seems to have stopped them completely, is liquid B-12. I already take a lot of B-complex, but adding liquid B-12 seems to have done the trick. I even had regular potato chips last week and no canker sores!

Knocking on wood.....

My wife had canker sores for years, often times with multiples sores at once. She had difficulty eating, sleeping and generally enjoying herself because of the constant pain. We narrowed it down to digestion. She tried many things including digestive enzymes, antibiotic rinses, etc, etc. She found that 1 tablespoon of psyllium husks each day sped up her digestion rate and the sores went away. Her system was very slow and the food sitting in her colon was causing the sores among other unpleasantness as you can imagine. We hope this can help others because we know the agony it can cause.

My son had them so badly about a year ago that he was miserable. I told him to try swishing some hydrogen peroxide in his mouth. You can't swallow it, but you swish it for 30 to 60 seconds before spitting it out. He sent me an email the next day telling me it worked. He was really amazed. Sometimes Mom does know something.

About 10 years ago I was having 5-6 bouts of canker sores throughout the winter. I developed a lesion on the roof of my mouth that was suspected cancer by PCP and by a throat specialist. I was placed on a hydrogen peroxide (full strength) mouthwash twice a day until the lab results came back. The canker sores disappeared in that time. The test results came back negative, but I asked if I could continue the peroxide swish. Sure was the answer. I have not had a cranker sore now for 10 years. Thus, rather than just speeding recovery as suggest in other comments, I believe we have a preventative procedure. Try it, it might just work for you too. Besides hydrogen peroxide is easy on the pocketbook! LDM

My wife had sores in her mouth for months. Many docs and various approaches did nothing for them. Finally, a course of Cipro she took for an infection completely cured them. Now she gets pretty good control with a probiotic.

This has worked for me as well. Toothpaste with peroxide and baking soda is the only kind I use and I do not have canker sores anymore - even if I eat walnuts (a cause for my canker sores).

I am a dental hygienist. My husband also gets recurrent aphthous ulcers (RAU). I have actually seen one the size of a dime on his tongue before. He rarely gets them anymore since one of my own patients told me she used to get them really bad but has stopped since she swishes with Listerine everyday. He has followed this advice and only gets them occasionally now.

In college I would be plagued with horrible canker sores during finals week. Came to realize that I would get them during times I was stressed. I used a variety of steroid dental gels, but my favorite remedy by far is eating kiwis. I love the fruit anyway, but when my daughter started getting those sores, I stocked up on kiwis and we notice that we're healed within one day when we eat 1 kiwi. Miracle fruit, if you ask us!

I have had a canker sore for 4 months never entirely cleared up. Taking salt water, milk of magnesia, b12 complex, l lysine peroxide, sauerkraut. Any other suggestions? Really bothering me.

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE: AFTER 4 MONTHS, IT'S TIME TO HAVE THE DOCTOR OR DENTIST CHECK TO SEE IF IT IS REALLY A CANKER SORE.

After reading about L-lysinee in your column, I began taking it twice each day when the sores began. The sores healed quickly. The ones on the roof of my mouth were the most painful but this cleared them also.

I have had canker sores since my teens. If I use Arm & Hammer baking soda toothpaste, my canker sores stay away. I don't use the kind with peroxide because it causes my teeth to be sensitive. I have 5 children, who all suffer from canker sores. I let them use children's toothpaste until they have a sore, then I switch them to the baking soda toothpaste. Although they don't like the taste, they willingly use the toothpaste because it provides relief very quickly.

I occasionally get canker sores and put some baking soda on them. The first time it burns and then each time after I barely notice it. The canker sores go away within a day and the pain is over after the first baking soda treatment. I normally use the baking soda a few times for good measure.

Please see your dentist for a sore of any kind that is not healed in a two week period. Four months is way too long for it to still be there. It may need to be biopsied.

Lee, have you had a dentist look at it? Sometimes what appears to be a canker sore is sometimes more serious. I had to have one biopsied.

Aphthous ulcers are not viral--they are bacterial related--this coming from dental hygiene journals.

The most effective remedy for aphthous ulcers I have found is to crush two Lysine 500mg tablets and mix with 1/2 teaspoon Vaseline (petroleum jelly.) Apply directly to ulcers and leave overnight. Gone the next morning.

I have found that a fairly new product, CankerMelts (produced by ORAHEALTH), works well for my canker sores. The primary active ingredient is glycyrrhiza extract (licorice root). They come as hard discs that 'melt' and adhere to the part of the mouth where you place them. I discovered them through my dentist, who gave me a sample. After seeing how successful they were, I discovered that none of the drugstores near my house carried them. However, they were easy to find and order online.

I was very interested in the article post in the Cape Gazette. I had mouth ulcers all my life. Tried so-o-o-o many remedies. Then my dental hygienist suggested all natural toothpaste because of the SLS (sodium laurel sulfate) in regular toothpaste. I tried it and boy now I have a new lease on life. I have since gotten away from the toothpaste and now use Listerine Whitening mouthwash. It foams up in your mouth while you are brushing and it whitens your teeth as you do. It feels so GOOD to eat anything without the tears running down my face from the burning and hurt.

I have suffered with canker sores since I was 15,I am now 71. That is a long time to suffer. I read about toothpaste with SLS, I have used Crest since I was a teenager. I changed to a tooth paste without SLS about 3 weeks ago, I haven't had a canker sore since. I normally would have 2 or 3 canker sores all of the time. It's been a wonderful discovery for me. Many thanks, Barbara

I switched to SLS free about two years ago, and noticed a significant reduction in the number of canker sores. I would get them all the time but especially when I ate walnuts, citrus fruit, bananas and sour candy.

I have had problems with my mouth since I took interferon in 1996. There seemed no relief. In addition, I have dry mouth. I was told by my dental hygienist to buy solid virgin coconut oil and put a teaspoon in my mouth. Wait till it melts and then swish for as long as you like. Expectorate. It won't hurt you if you swallow it, it's food. Also highly recommended is Seabuckthorn Fruit oil. Apply with a q-tip. You can get both at natural food stores or on-line.

I have been successful in controlling canker sores by taking alpha lipoic acid regularly. I agree that nuts can cause them. I also believe chocolate and the like can. I agree that canker sores imply a weakened immune system. In my case, when I have a canker sore, I feel fatigued, but I do not know which causes which.

After many years of having canker sores, which began getting worse and becoming more associated with fatigue, I was finally diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, so one wonders if there might be an association. By the way, I am the only person I know that uses alpha lipoic acid to control canker sores. I tried lysine but got no results.

I suffered from ulcers for years and read one time that tooth paste could cause these painful sores. I changed my tooth paste and have not had one since. I have used Pepsodent and Colgate without any problems. It is wonderful to have a comfortable mouth now. I would urge all who suffer to try this. My dentist had the same cure.

I am a dental hygienist. Everyone is different as far as what toothpaste bothers them. When I was in college, we were told Colgate was a brand that seemed to bother a lot of people as far as ulcers, sensitive teeth, etc. (myself included-I can't use any form of Colgate--it hurts my teeth!) But I am surprised at the number of patients who I thought would be affected by certain brands, and do just fine. So I try trial and error to get desired results--and I always start with "plain" brands first, like "plain" Crest. In other words, no tartar-control or whitening types. Then we start with brands containing no sodium lauryl sulfate, like Biotene. I'm glad this person found what worked for them!

I am a female now 63 yrs old. Since I was about 13 I had canker sores inside my mouth which would become so severe they would split the sides of my tongue open. I couldn't talk or eat. A few years ago, when they were really bad, I got desperate and figured I'd rinse my mouth with an antibiotic. All I had was Listerine. I tipped the bottle up and sloshed some into my mouth and almost fell over from the pain, but I steeled myself and kept it up.

I repeated it a few more times.You may not believe this, but over the next few days they all healed. After that, as soon as I felt one coming on, I'd wash it with the Listerine, really sloshing it around like before, and within hours it is GONE. It never even gets to the point of a full canker sore, let alone dozens like I had my whole life. The pain of the Listerine on them is indescribable, but it is worth it. The incidents became fewer and fewer, and now it's been several years since I've had one.

I am 60 year old male and have suffered mouth ulcers since I was a teenager. In recent years, some of the outbreaks have been over multiple areas of my mouth and sometimes includes my tongue. I have used a number of home remedies and have not had much success.

When I tried Alum, it hurt like crazy on application, but provided no apparent relief or healing. I have ground up aspirin and applied directly on the ulcer. It also hurt like crazy on application, but provided moderate relief, but did not seem to provide any speeding up of healing of the ulcer.

I have also tried the sauerkraut juice. It provided almost immediate relief of the pain, but did not speed any healing. In fact, the next day, the ulcer was worse and my lip was swollen. I have also tried a prescription product, called Aphthasol, which provided no relief or apparent healing.

Locally, one of our pharmacies mixes a solution called "Salzer's Solution", which requires a doctor's prescription. You swish it in your mouth four times a day. I had one of my worse outbreaks two years ago.... It was so bad, all I could do was eat Jello and drink soup (delicately). I had to cancel many appointments I had for a couple of days because it hurt to even talk.

My family doctor prescribed "Salzer's Solution". I was very skeptical, but the first application created a soothing sensation on the ulcers. Within 24 hours, I could eat whole food and within 48 hours, the ulcers were gone. I don't know what is in the solution, but I have continued to use it anytime I get a mouth ulcer. It has always been effective at providing immediate relief and clearing up the ulcers in 24 to 48 hours.

Can you please give a few more details more about Salzer's Solution? I can find no references to this solution on the internet.

My son was 5yrs old when he started to get canker sores in his mouth. He would get 4 or 5 at one time. It became a nightmare. I spent more money on oral gel than I did when he was a baby. Using oral gel was the only way he could get through school. At one point his mouth broke out so bad with sores, he ended up being out of school for a week. The doctors here was no help. I finally found wheatgrass powder. I was actually looking for something for my husband to take and decided to give my boy some as well. He's 8 now and so far he hasn't had any in a few months. (knock on something! lol) Now my whole family is on the powdered wheatgrass. I do know taking higher mg's of Vitamin C helps prevent them as well.

I had canker sores so bad, I even went to the dentist to get laser treatments, I tried everything I could read about, and nothing helped. I finally realized that every time I would eat anything with vinegar I would get the sores, I had been eating a lot of salads with vinegar and oil dressing. Now even if I have too much mustard I will get the canker sores back. I love vinegar and oil dressing I just wish I could find a cure for food allergies but at least I finally found out what was causing the sores. No more sores as long as I stay away from anything with vinegar!

I was just diagnosed with CLL last month. I have had chronic canker sores for years. What is this acid that you use and how can I find it?

I have come to the conclusion (after many years) that canker sores may be a symptom caused by different agents in different individuals. In my case, I have identified two factors (there may be more) that definitely provoke canker sores in *me*: (a) taking Vitamin C, and (b) eating significant quantities of acidic fruit or vegetables. For completely other reasons, I began using traditional Listerine-like mouthwash at least once a day quite a number of months ago. Combined with not taking Vit C (this means no multivitamins) and not eating acidic fruits and vegetables, I have not had any canker sores in quite some time.

I am, however, knocking on wood because I can't be sure that I have correctly identified all factors.

Ever since I was a young child (age 7+) I have often times developed very painful canker sores after eating or drinking very acidic/citrus products. The best cure I eventually discovered and now always use is baking powder. I wet a cue tip with water and then dip it in baking powder. I hold the baking powder covered cue tip on my sore for about 15seconds & then rinse & repeat once. It does burn but it works great! Typically this treatment once or twice & the sore is gone.

I only got canker sores after having too many English walnuts, but lately, I over-indulged in raw pecans and have one on my tongue. What works for me is moistening a styptic pencil (the kind used for cuts while shaving) and dabbing it a couple times on the spot, then wait a few minutes before I rinse out. Hope this helps someone.

My sores are from chemo and developed within three days of the first infusion. I have round two tomorrow and the first ones are not all gone yet. I am terrified that they will be back. Anyone have this problem?

I have had bad sores for years mostly from cuts i.e eating chips or bites on the tongue and cheek
I use a bit of 5% iodine and dip it with my finger on the area were I expect or feel a sore developing
I keep a little bottle of iodine with me and if if treated right away a few times a day the canker sore never develops !!!!
Prevention is it!!!!

I'll not comment on treatment but mostly on causes.

I have noticed that canker sores will appear in my mouth:

1) after using not too clean spoons/forks (re-using plastic spoons, knifes etc), drinking and re-using plastic bottles for water etc. I guess bacteria is the reason here .
2) after major stress event
3) eating acidic foods (pineapples)

Currently I have a very bad, swollen, and painful canker sore on my tongue... it is hard to talk and eat. I read all of your comments and after work I am rushing to a store to buy some remedies and start treatment asap. I feel miserable.

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