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How can I Treat Canker Sores?

Michael Pollick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Canker sores, or aphthous ulcers, are painful blister-like mouth sores which form on a person's inner lip, gums, cheeks or sublingual areas. Although relatively small in size, these sores can feel much larger and much more sensitive when touched. The bad news is there is no actual cure for them, but the good news is that most outbreaks dissipate on their own after one or two weeks. Canker sores can be treated to reduce pain and severity, but there is currently no way to drain or remove them through a medical or surgical process.

There are a number of ways to treat canker sores, but most methods concentrate primarily on pain reduction or protection during the natural healing process. One way to control the pain associated with these lesions is with over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen(Advil) or acetaminophen(Tylenol). For more direct painkilling, a medicated oral gel such as Orabase® or Anbesol® could be placed on the sores themselves and given sufficient time to numb the area.

Other homemade recipes for treating canker sores include frequent rinses with a 1:1 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water, followed by a careful application of Milk of Magnesia direct over the sore with a Q-tip. The use of a specialty toothpaste which does not contain sodium laurel sulfate may also be beneficial. Gargling with salt water may prove painful at first, but some suggest it will also speed the healing process. A mixture of liquid Benadryl® and Milk of Magnesia is also frequently mentioned as an effective treatment for minor lesions.

The other philosophy about treating canker sores is to leave them alone as much as possible and allow them to heal naturally. The first few days of an outbreak are the most painful, and eventually the mouth sore should disappear on its own. A coating of tincture of benzoin may be used to form a protective cover over the area while it heals. A doctor should be able to prescribe more powerful mouthwashes or topical antibiotics if the sores are especially large or fail to heal within two weeks.

People who have canker sores should take steps to avoid making the situation worse. They should avoid eating very spicy foods, which tend to make the pain even more pronounced. Acidic foods and beverages such as orange juice or carbonated sodas should also be avoided as much as possible. The acid can irritate the inflamed tissue around the sore. Sharp-edged or crunchy foods can also cause more irritation, so those who are afflicted should avoid eating tortilla chips, hard crackers and certain breakfast cereals.

If canker sores do not clear up on their own within two weeks, professional medical advice or treatment may become necessary. Maintaining good oral hygiene, lowering stress levels and taking dietary supplements of vitamins C and E are all good ways to decrease future outbreaks.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick


As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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