Milk bottles; dairy

Q. My 37-year-old daughter has battled canker sores her entire life. It’s not unusual for her to have more than 10 at a time. She’s tried a lot of different treatments over the years with little success.

Recently she had a baby and did not have one sore the entire pregnancy. Six weeks after delivering, the sores came back in full force. Her doctor prescribed oral corticosteroid, which cleared her mouth sores up temporarily. They returned as soon as the steroids wore off. Incidentally, she is a nurse but she has yet to find any help. She’s willing to try a home remedy if you can suggest one.

A. The medical term for canker sores is aphthous ulcers. Doctors don’t know what causes them or why some people are especially susceptible. They can show up after you’ve bitten your cheek or for no apparent reason. A bad case can make it hard for a person to eat or talk.

If there is no underlying medical problem, sauerkraut juice is a home remedy worth considering. A tablespoon of juice gets swished around the mouth a few times a day and then swallowed. One doctor who, like your daughter, suffered recurrent severe canker sores was skeptical when we suggested this, but found it worked extremely well. He was so pleased he and his chemist son are doing some research on its ingredients.

If sauerkraut juice is too weird or unpalatable, there are a few other options. Some readers recommend a pinch of alum on the sore; others prefer tannin or instant iced tea. L-lysine and acidophilus supplements from the health food store also have their supporters.

We also heard about this unusual remedy:

Q. I’ve read with interest suggestions for treating canker sores. About 35 years ago my son’s school nurse recommended swishing buttermilk in the mouth. It helps heal them fast!
Another reader wrote: “Someone wrote to you about cold sores. This person derided the use of “silly” remedies like lysine.

I know from experience that lysine works, but plain old buttermilk works just as well and even quicker.”

A. Why buttermilk might help is beyond us, but we cannot think of a safer solution for a common problem.

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  1. Callie

    I have found swishing whole milk around my mouth, making sure to let the milk “settle” on the canker for a minute several times, takes the pain away and helps it heal. Have been doing this my whole life. I notice that when I’m stressed and skip meals, and/or eat too much salt is when I’ll bite my lip or cheek, and sure enough I’ll get one.

  2. Michelle

    I have a canker sore on my tongue and I read that tums is a remedy. It works, just eat some tums until its like a paste and leave it on there and it works for me.

  3. WDB

    I quit smoking Three years ago and started to develop canker sores on my tongue. Severe pain was alway present and seemed to be caused from nuts, choc., strawberries and even fresh corn. I have exhausted all the help from my three doctors… With a heavy cost…One doctor put me on 1000 mg of Valtrex a day. And when I would have a outbreak… I was taking 4000 mg a day for two days to stop them from coming in hard. Worked well except, I started to have severe muscle soreness in lower back and shoulders…. I have since stopped taking Valtrex for this condition. I have been drinking 4 oz, BUTTERMILK in the morning. All have been well, and of course I stayed away from the nuts and ect. that was triggering my condition… Hope this helps someone that is bothered with the same problem……..

  4. Becky H.

    I am avoiding milk. Only lactose-free milk. So far it has been good.

  5. S.C.

    I get canker sores when drinking too much coffee, any amount of orange juice, eating tomato-y dishes, mouth trauma (usually biting my cheek or lip), and this latest time, my period.
    Fastest way to get rid of them is:
    1. Get that white gunk out! Brush it out with your toothbrush or q-tip or scrub it out with some salt (ouch!)
    2. Swish with mouthwash daily and keep your teeth clean- especially the teeth touching it.
    3. Take an Acidophilus every day. (this is the most important step)
    To maintain, I eat yogurt (with active cultures) several times a week, which allows me to drink coffee without too many occurrences. Best of luck!

    • Maly

      Had canker sore outbreaks for many years now. When I caught the flu one season, I literally had over 50 cankers in my mouth. Ouch! I have tried warm salt water rinse, salt, listerine, l-lysine,alum crystal, etc. The alum really sped up the healing but nothing really was the miracle remedy. It wasn’t until about a month or so ago where i had sores in the back of my mouth that made eating, talking, swallowing very painful…I just had enough. I found this site and read up on “acidophilus”. I may have something like celiac disease that prevents me from absorbing nutrients. I took acidophilus with zinc and long story short….even with a weak immune system recovered from a cold in 2 to 3 days….did not get any sores the few days of sleep deprivation after my son was born and even the recent sores on my tongues lasted only a few days (usually last between 1 to 2 weeks) and were painless and gone. Everyone is different. Find your trigger and avoid it. Get tested for celiac disease or wheat allergy. Good luck

  6. Adriana

    As a lifelong canker sore sufferer I was amazed to see my sores disappear completely when I dropped wheat from my diet completely. No bread, pasta or cereal for me! If I cheat for a day or two they come back with a vengeance!

  7. Scott

    I am going to try Benadryl tonight. I have one on my lip and it’s terrible. I’ve always gotten canker sores but can prevent them 100% by not drinking too much pop, OJ, eating too many M&M’s etc. Overdo it like I did last week, and whamo. I’ve found that almond milk soothes the sore and makes the pain go away for a little bit. Not long term, but if you’re in pain, swish some. Works.

  8. Adriana

    I suffered from multiple canker sores for years and have tried virtually all of the above suggestions with limited results. Acidophilus, l-lyssine, yogurt, tea tree, expensive mouth washes. Sme gave limited relief but no major results.
    Chocolate is another culprit for me :(. One Christmas we received a large container of homemade fudge and my sister and I indulged in one square a day for about a week until it was gone. I had about 10 raging sores in my mouth that whole week that did not seem to get better. After researching that this might be an allergic reaction of sorts I took a regular dose of over the counter Benadryl and it was like flipping a switch and they all cleared up.
    Like one other commenter, when I dropped wheat as part of a paleo diet, the canker sores disappeared. If I cheat a little, bang! they come back. This weekend I had one sub roll and one frozen waffle and now have 4 canker sores. I took an OTC allergy tablet last night and they are healing this morning.
    So…Benadryl or the generic equivalent of diphenhydramine antihistamine is worth a try! Let me know if this works for any of you.

  9. George W.

    I have suffered with mouth ulcers (canker sores) as long as I can remember. I’m 79. Many years ago my dentist and his assistant recommended L-Lysine tablets. (The dental assistant had taken smallpox vaccinations over the years to stop chronic mouth ulcers. But could no longer get them.) Anyway, I tried the L-Lysine and it worked. I take one 500 mg tablet each morning and never have ulcers unless I stop. A week without L-Lysine and they’re back. Australian Tea Tree Oil applied directly to the sore provides excellent temporary relief and aids healing.

  10. linda

    Suffered tot years discovered wheat sensitivity was cause. Zinc supplements relieve and cure sore. Take as soon as you feel coming on and take until gone. I take zinc supplement daily as a preventative. Works!

  11. TerryN

    I have had spells of canker sores all my life but the last 6 months I have had a constant mouthful of 5+ large canker sores so bad it was difficult to eat, talk etc. After reading many suggestions here they are finally almost all healed and no new ones. I have been taking l-lysing daily and brushing with Arm and Hammer baking soda and peroxide toothpaste 3 times a day. The tooth paste sure seems to make them feel better right away.
    I also have been just rinsing with baking soda water in between. I have tried so many other things with no results including silver nitrate sticks from the dentist. Thanks for all the ideas from this board. I did use sauerkraut juice a few times and felt this helped too. Am going to buy more toothpaste today so I have extra tube on hand. Hope it continues to work.

  12. niya

    hi I’m eleven and I need help curing my canker sore. I tried salt not so lucky peroxide kinda lucky I have canker right now help me please and I tried apple cider vinegar all of that today.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: A bit of juice from a can or jar of sauerkraut swished around in the mouth three or four times a day can often be helpful. You may have to go shopping to get the sauerkraut though.

  13. R.E.B.

    Perhaps the buttermilk works for the same reason I have found that kefir milk or yogurt work to clear up my sores. Not all yogurt brands or types seem to be equal in efficacy. Often I find that if I eat yogurt when I first feel the burning associated with the onset the sore never appears. Even some brands of frozen yogurt have been very effective. I believe the results are dependent in the quantities and types of active cultures present.

  14. SLO

    Right on the money. I started using Biotene brand toothpaste on the advice of a pharmacist and now I rarely get canker sores. To clear up a bad case, rinse for a day or two with hydrogen peroxide. I will also get ulcers from magnesium deficiency.

  15. Darla

    I am 58 and suffered from canker sores in my mouth all my life (but I have NEVER had a cold sore on my lips, interestingly enough). I rarely remember a time in my life, even from my childhood, when I didn’t have one so I feel I am an expert. LOL. I have tried all of the remedies listed here at one time or another. L-Lysine does not do anything for me. Acidolpolis is my miracle drug (Acidolpholus does nothing for my daughter but L-Lysine works for her. IT DEPENDS ON THE INDIVIDUAL so I encourage readers to experiment until you find an answer).
    I used to buy the live Acidolpholus in the refrigerated portion of the health food store but later learned that the dollar store version works just as well. I buy the capsules and swallow several at night before bed. Additionally, right before bed I brush my teeth and open some of the capsules and pour the powder onto the sores (obviously you need to buy the capsules and not the pill form). Next morning it is typically well. Do this at the first indication before it gets large for best results.
    I haven’t used Acidolpholus in years now because I don’t get them any more. I started eating Activia or Fiber One EVERY morning for other obvious reasons and that is the only changed variable I can think of. I used to eat yogurt or apply to the ulcers AFTER an outbreak but that didn’t work. Perhaps a small yogurt every day will work for sufferers (of course stress, excitement, and soft drinks with citric acid exacerbate them and help to bring them on).

  16. SNW

    Years ago, my dentist suggested an unusual treatment for canker sores or cheek bites: denture powder! Just dab a little on the sore (and then do your best to not suck it off). Applied at bedtime, I found most sores gone (or nearly so) by morning! It’s VERY effective.

  17. LCF

    Further to your readers’ remedies for canker sores, I’d like to offer what helped me. As soon as I notice the beginnings of a canker sore(s), I take one or two lactaid tablets and let them melt in my mouth. Bingo, the sores disappear. Lactaid tablets are OTC and are used for lactose intolerance. Very inexpensive, easy to carry in your purse and very effective.

  18. jla

    Many years ago, my 9 year old son woke with a mouth full of canker sores. He could not eat or drink. I took him to the children’s clinic in town where an East Indian doctor examined him.
    He told me to buy a bottle of Green Label Karo syrup and to have my son swish this around in his mouth for a minute or so, spit it out, then try not to drink anything for 15 minutes. We did as the doctor prescribed and later that afternoon, my son ate three hot dogs and a can of tomato soup.
    It is hard finding the green label Karo now. I wonder if a good pancake syrup would do the same thing?

  19. LJB

    I’ve noticed that canker sores appear when I eat certain kinds of prepared foods, including some candy and some kinds of Asian restaurant dishes. Thanks for all the helpful hints for easing the pain!

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