Young woman with a sore lip. Aphthous stomatitis is a common condition characterized by the repeated formation of benign and non-contagious mouth ulcers. Canker sores

One of the most common—and most annoying—forms of mouth discomfort is the canker sore, or aphthous ulcer. While these sores are generally harmless, they can be unpleasant and sometimes downright painful. If you’re experiencing these ulcers, you may be wondering how to get rid of canker sores.

What Causes Canker Sores?

Before we can discuss canker sore treatments, it’s necessary to first talk about what exactly causes these ulcers.

While many people think “cold sore” and “canker sore” are synonymous, they aren’t the same condition. Cold sores are actually a form of herpes most often caused by the herpes simplex 1 virus. These sores are contagious and the virus that causes them stays in the body for life. Canker sores, by contrast, are not contagious. Furthermore, scientists don’t exactly know what causes these ulcers.

Experts believe, though, that there are many contributing factors to developing canker sores, including:

  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Stress
  • Menstrual hormonal shifts
  • Injury to the mouth
  • Certain kinds of toothpastes and mouthwashes

Risk factors include:

  • Hereditary factors: People are more likely to suffer from canker sores if they run in the family.
  • Sex: Cisgender women are more likely to experience them than cisgender men.
  • Age: People are more likely to develop canker sores when they’re younger.

How Long Do Canker Sores Last?

Minor canker sores typically heal within a week or two. Sores that persist longer than two weeks or are unbearably painful may require a dentist’s or doctor’s visit.

What Gets Rid of Canker Sores Fast?

When canker sores strike, most people just want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Canker sore treatment can simply mean avoiding touching and irritating the sore as it heals. Other people opt for different methods that may reduce pain or possibly even speed up healing. 

It’s important to note that most home remedies for mild cases of canker sores are not backed by extensive research. So, it’s always important to discuss your options with a licensed professional first. Furthermore, no one cure will work for every individual and treatment can vary widely based on what exactly caused you to have these ulcers in the first place.

1. Get New Toothpaste and Mouthwash

The mouth is lined with extra-sensitive mucous membranes. Sometimes your toothpaste or even mouthwash can aggravate this lining. In some cases, canker sores may even result from this irritation. Most often, the ingredient in these products to blame is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sometimes called sodium dodecyl sulfate.

Fortunately, this cause of canker sores has an easy solution: simply buy products without sodium lauryl sulfate/sodium dodecyl sulfate. Most often, these products will be clearly marketed as “SLS-free.” To be on the safe side, though, it’s always a good idea to check the ingredients.

2. Avoid Certain Foods

Toothpaste and mouthwash aren’t the only substances that may irritate the mouth. Sometimes the foods we eat may result in canker sores, too.

What foods trigger canker sores?

Experts typically associate the following with greater risk of canker sores:

  • Alcohol, like wine
  • Acidic foods and drinks, like coffee
  • Citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruits
  • Salty foods, like french fries
  • Spicy foods, jalapeños
  • Hard or crispy foods, like pretzels
  • Carbonated drinks, like soda

3. Try Less-irritating Foods Instead

Foods that typically have a lower chance of aggravating a canker sore include soft foods like soup.

4. Gargle Salty Water

This method tastes and feels awful, but is a classic home remedy for these annoying ulcers.

  1. Mix a tablespoon of edible table salt in with 12 ounces of warm water.
  2. Gargle the solution for about 30 seconds.
  3. Then, spit it out. Do not swallow the solution.

People believe this method works by drying out the sore. This method isn’t for everyone though, especially those with a low pain tolerance.

5. Chill Out with Ice Chips

Ice chips (not to be confused with ice cubes) won’t necessarily speed up the canker sore healing process, but it will make the process easier to manage. Essentially, the ice may numb the painful area, making it easier to use that part of your mouth.

  1. Blend some ice cubes in a blender.
  2. Put the resulting ice chips in a glass.
  3. “Drink” the chips. Namely, let them dissolve in the mouth close to your sore.

7. Grab the NSAIDs

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are popular over-the-counter (OTC) supplements that people use to fight pain, fever, and inflammation. Popular OTC NSAIDs in the United States include Aleve (naproxen) and Advil (ibuprofen). Considering canker sores often come with surrounding inflamed tissue, the use of NSAIDs may reduce said inflammation and provide some pain relief.

It’s important to note, though, that NSAIDs will not work for everyone, and these drugs can interact with prescription or even other OTC medications. Anyone considering this method should consult their doctor first.

8. Try Hormonal Birth Control

Non-hormonal birth control works well for many people, but not everyone. Those who believe that their menstrual cycle may play a part in their canker sores outbreaks should talk to their doctor about hormonal birth control options, like “the pill.”

Final Thoughts

People who suffer recurrent bouts of mouth ulcers often wonder how to get rid of canker sores. While there’s no one “tried-and-true” remedy that will magically cure all forms of canker sores, there are some home remedies that may expedite the healing process and/or reduce pain.

It’s important to exercise caution, though, if trying these or any other home remedies, as most are not backed by extensive scientific research.

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