Canker sores: causes, treatments, and other information

Canker sores are small lesions or ulcers in the mouth that often appear as small white or yellow indentations in the tissue. They often present on the inside of the lower lip or inside the cheeks and can be quite uncomfortable. The causes of canker sores are varied, ranging from injury to the recent consumption of very spicy or acidic foods to underlying health issues such as ulcers, a weakened immune system, or nutritional deficiencies. Most canker sores are minor and go away on their own fairly quickly, but some sores require more advanced treatment.

Can I treat a canker sore at home?

Yes, there are a number of effective home remedies to safely and effectively treat canker sores. Many canker sores resolve on their own within one to two weeks, but there are things you can do at home to relieve symptoms and speed up the healing process. These include:

  • Saltwater or baking soda rinses: Mix 1 teaspoon of salt or baking soda in 4 oz/one half cup of warm water. Use this mixture to rinse your mouth in the morning and at night, swishing the liquid around your mouth so that it makes contact with the affected area.
  • Milk of magnesia: In addition to saltwater or baking soda rinses, you can apply a small amount of milk of magnesia on the affected area 3-4 times a day. In addition to helping to alleviate the discomfort of a canker sore, this (like the rinses) will also speed up the healing process.

For simple pain relief, you can hold ice chips on the affected area to numb the pain. You can also use toothpastes free of sodium lauryl sulfate, which is a foaming agent found in toothpaste and other products that can be irritating to canker sores.

There are also a variety of over-the-counter topical products that can both ease the pain and speed up the healing of canker sores. These include products like Anbesol, Kank-A, Orajel Antipseptic Mouth sore Rinse, and Lidex); they can be purchased at your local drugstore.

What other treatments are available if home remedies don’t resolve the problem?

If home remedies do not resolve a canker sore, it may be time to check in with your doctor or dentist about more advanced treatments. Your doctor will likely check for any underlying symptoms such as stomach ulcers, immune conditions, or vitamin deficiencies that could cause the canker sores you are experiencing; he or she would then work to treat that condition which would in turn resolve the canker sores.

In some cases, oral medications are used to treat severe or persistent canker sores. These are normally prescribed by your doctor, who might choose to treat them with Carafate, a medication typically used to treat ulcers, or oral steroids.

When canker sores do not respond to other forms of treatment, chemical cautery may be used to destroy the damaged tissue. Some solutions that may be used in these instances include Debacterol, which will effectively help heal the damaged tissue, and silver nitrate, which is used primarily to relieve the pain and discomfort of a large canker sore.

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