Most canker sores heal fast. The pain can be gone in around seven to 10 days, while complete recovery takes one to three weeks. Even better, most of these sores don’t require additional treatment.1 However, if you or someone you know experiences large, persistent or unusually painful sores, medical attention may be needed. Know how to get rid of canker sores and learn about the conventional cures that you should stay away from.
Common Remedies Prescribed for Canker Sores, and Why They Might Be Bad
These are some of the remedies that might be recommended for treating canker sores. However, be wary about the potential health risks that they may harbor:2
• Mouth rinses that contain a corticosteroid called dexamethasone: Corticosteroids have been associated with various side effects, and dexamethasone is no exception, as it can cause:3
Sleep problems like insomnia
Changes in mood
Dry or thinning skin
Bruising or discoloration
• Topical over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription products: These include pastes, creams, gels or liquids that have active ingredients such as benzocaine (a local anesthetic4) and fluocinonide (another steroid). Possible side effects that you may experience are:5,6
A solution called hydrogen peroxide may also be present in these items. This is a known antiseptic and is effective against bacteria. Hydrogen peroxide breaks the cell membranes of bacteria apart by attracting electrons first. An enzyme called catalase is found inside the bacteria, and the solution reacts with this enzyme, producing fizzing and releasing an oxygen molecule.7
However, there’s a major caveat to hydrogen peroxide — it cannot distinguish healthy cells from pathogenic bacteria in a wound. This means that hydrogen peroxide can attract electrons from healthy cell membranes, eliminate them and react with catalase in the same manner, and produce fizzing.
Applying too much hydrogen peroxide can cause excessive oxidative damage to your cells, slow down wound healing and increase the risk for scar formation.8 A rule of thumb for this substance is to make sure to only use it when you or someone you know needs a powerful and effective antiseptic.
Don’t forget that there are other topical treatments that don’t contain these active ingredients. Consult your dentist or a physician prior to using topical treatments for canker sores.
• Oral medications: These are usually prescribed for severe canker sores that no longer respond to topical treatments. These oral medications often carry a huge warning sign since they weren’t even made for treating this condition in the first place. Two examples include:
◦ Sucralfate, also called Carafate, is an intestinal ulcer treatment typically used for gout that can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, headaches or dizziness9
◦ Oral steroid medications that are given when severe canker sores don’t respond to other treatments — although they are considered to be a last resort because of their potential serious side effects10
• Cauterization of sores: While the first three common treatment protocols for severe canker sores refer to types of medications, cauterization is a procedure wherein an instrument or chemical substance is utilized to burn, sear or destroy affected tissue. Cauterization may often be recommended because chemically cauterized canker sores can decrease healing time to about a week or so.
During this procedure, a topical solution called debacterol is used. This particular solution is said to help treat canker sores and other gum problems. In some cases, silver nitrate may be used for this procedure, but it only assists in alleviating canker sore pain and not in speeding up the healing process.11 Silver nitrate is also highly toxic and dangerous if swallowed.12
Natural Options for Canker Sore Relief
If the pain from a canker sore is unbearable, here are some natural remedies that you can try:13,14
Natural mouth rinse: Pour salt water on a canker sore or make a baking soda rinse by dissolving 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1/2 cup of warm water.
Milk of magnesia or magnesium hydroxide: Dab a small amount onto the sore several times daily.15
Ice: Apply some ice onto the sores and allow the chips to slowly dissolve over the lesions.
Coconut oil: This essential has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. StyleCraze recommends using a cotton swab or clean hands to place a liberal amount on the sore two or three times a day.16
Honey: Raw, organic honey contains antibacterial and potential anti-inflammatory properties.
A 2017 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that honey helped reduced complications of chemo- or radiotherapy-induced oral mucositis among pediatric cancer patients.17
Apple cider vinegar: Combine equal portions of apple cider vinegar and warm water to form a solution. Gargle this mixture and make sure to spit it out.
You can also try alternative or naturopathic treatments for canker sores, provided you consult with your dentist or physician first. Compared to common treatment protocols, studies on these remedies are quite limited, so there is not a lot of medical literature to vouch for their effectiveness. Some potentially effective naturopathic treatments include:18
Coptis sup/hydrastis Canadensis root
Mahonia aquifolium root
Spilanthes acmella flower
Alchemilla vulgaris leaf
Myrtus communis leaf
Since canker sores might develop because of deficiencies in nutrients like zinc, vitamins B6 and B12, folate or folic acid,19 your physician could recommend nutritional supplements to improve your levels and maintain optimal amounts in the body.