Most canker sores heal fast. It’s said that the pain will be gone in around seven to 10 days, while complete recovery takes one to three weeks.1 Even better, most of these sores don’t require additional treatment.2
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 “common 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 you can face:3
• 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:4
✓ Vision changes
✓ Weight gain
✓ Sleep problems like insomnia
✓ Mood changes
✓ Dry or thinning skin
✓ Bruising or discoloration
✓ Stomach pain
• Topical over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription products: These include pastes, creams, gels or liquids that have active ingredients such as benzocaine (a local anesthetic5) and fluocinonide (another steroid). Possible side effects that you may experience are:6,7
|Allergic reactions such as skin rashes, itching or hives and swelling of the face, lips or tongue||Drying or cracking skin|
|Dizziness or drowsiness||Burning sensation|
|Fast or slow heartbeat||Changes in skin color|
|Increased sweating||Severe skin rashes|
|Restlessness, nervousness or anxiety||Excessive hair growth|
|Seizures||Nausea or vomiting|
|Tremors||Inflamed hair follicles|
|Signs of a skin infection|
|Symptoms of anaphylaxis|
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.8
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.9 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 canker sores that are severe or don’t respond to topical treatments. Unfortunately, these oral medications often have a huge warning sign on them since they weren’t even made for this condition in the first place. Look at these two examples:
◦ 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 potential serious side effects like mood swings, increased risk of infections, muscle weakness and high blood pressure11,12
• 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 of a belief that 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. No prominent side effects have been described for debacterol, but you may experience stinging and/or irritation once the substance is applied to the area.13
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.
Natural Options for Canker Sore Relief
✓ 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 three to four times daily.17
✓ 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 anti-microbial properties. Place a liberal amount of the oil using a cotton swab or clean hands onto the sore.
Ensure that you place a thick layer or clump of oil on the sore. A thin layer might melt rapidly and just slide off.
✓ Honey: Raw and organic honey contains antibacterial and potential anti-inflammatory properties.
Prior to applying honey on the sore, swish some warm water first in your mouth. Then, place a thick amount of the honey directly onto the sore and reapply two to three times daily.
Ideally, one application should be done before going to bed, since honey works best when you’re not talking or eating and worrying so much about the placement of the rub.
✓ 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 that you consult with your dentist or physician first. Compared to common treatment protocols, studies on these remedies are quite limited so not a lot of people can vouch for their effectiveness. Some potentially effective naturopathic treatments include:18
✓ Glycyrrhiza glabra
✓ Coptis sup/hydrastis Canandensis 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 and/or folate or folic acid,19 your physician could recommend nutritional supplements20 to improve your levels and maintain optimal amounts in the body. Lysine supplements for canker sores could be prescribed too, since a deficit of this amino acid can trigger these lesions.21