Stop Canker Sore Pain

Updated: Feb. 01, 2023

Remedies for treating canker sores.

mouth pain

That little crater in your mouth causes more pain than anything so small deserves to. Rest assured that in a week or two, your canker sore will most likely be history, and you can chomp a chip, drink a cup of joe, or smooch your spouse without regretting it. Meanwhile, here are ways to blunt the pain and become a sore loser faster.

Seal the Sore
Over-the-counter products such as Zilactin-B Canker Sore Gel and Colgate Orabase Soothe-N-Seal form a long-lasting protective coating over the sore to speed healing and provide fast pain relief.

A form of licorice known as deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL, also coats canker sores. It’s available in health food stores. Chew one or two 200-milligram tablets two or three times a day.

The sap of aloe vera — the ubiquitous “first aid plant”– can bring welcome relief. Squeeze a bit of gel from an aloe vera leaf. Dry the sore with a cotton swab, then dab on the gel. Repeat as often as you like.

Cut open a vitamin E capsule and squeeze a bit of the liquid onto the sore.

Put It in Neutral
Munch a chewable Pepto-Bismol, Tums, or Rolaids tablet or put it on the sore and allow it to dissolve. The pain you feel from a canker sore is caused by acids and digestive enzymes eating into the tissue in the sore. The tablets will neutralize the acids and may also speed healing. Check the label for dosage directions.

Use a small amount of milk of magnesia as a mouth rinse, or apply it to the canker sore three to four times a day.

Apply a damp tea bag to the sore for five minutes. Tea is alkaline, so it neutralizes acids. It also contains astringent compounds, which may help relieve the pain.

Get That Numb Feeling
Dab on a topical anesthetic such as Anbesol or Orajel.

Let a pain-relieving lozenge, such as Chloraseptic, dissolve in your mouth.

Battle Bacteria
Mix two ounces of hydrogen peroxide with two ounces of water. Add one teaspoon of baking soda and one teaspoon of salt, and stir until they dissolve. Swish the solution around in your mouth and spit it out. Hydrogen peroxide is a strong disinfectant. That’s a plus, since a canker sore is an open wound that’s vulnerable to infection, which increases the pain. And since baking soda is alkaline, it provides extra relief by neutralizing acids. To speed healing, apply a liquid form of herbal goldenseal on the sore three times a day, at least an hour before eating. Goldenseal has modest antibacterial properties.

Put a single drop of tea tree oil, an antiseptic, directly on the sore.

Make a tea from calendula, better known as pot marigold, valued for centuries in the treatment of minor sores. Pour a cup of boiling water over a teaspoon or two of dried petals. Let it steep for 10 minutes, strain out the leaves, and let the tea cool down until it’s barely warm. You can gargle and rinse several times a day, or drink the tea.

Eat yogurt that contains live acidophilus cultures (check the label). Have a few teaspoonfuls daily for prevention — more when you’re having a breakout.

Take Extra Measures
Many experts think lysine, an amino acid, may be needed to fix a deficiency associated with canker sores. Take 500 milligrams of L-lysine three times a day on an empty stomach until your sore is healed.

Echinacea is an herb that strengthens your immune system. Take 200 milligrams two or three times a day when you first notice a sore starting to appear.

Vitamin C helps heal your mouth’s mucous membranes. Normally, we would turn to citrus fruits for vitamin C, but these may actually cause canker sores in some people. Instead, take vitamin C supplements. Try 1,000 milligrams three times a day. If you develop diarrhea with dosages this high, switch to 500-milligram supplements instead.

Zinc may help mouth injuries like canker sores heal faster. As soon as you detect a sore developing, take 30 milligrams of zinc lozenges each day until it’s gone. Stay away from foods that trigger canker sores. Potential troublemakers include whole wheat, rye, barley, shellfish, pineapple or citrus fruits, figs, chocolate, tomatoes, green peppers, and strawberries. To find out which, if any, cause your cankers, cut all of them out of your diet. Then slowly reintroduce them, one at a time, and see which one makes the problem recur.
Check the label of your favorite toothpaste for an ingredient called sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS. This foaming agent, found in many brands of toothpaste, contributes to canker sores in some people. And it really isn’t necessary for teeth cleaning. If you get frequent sores, look for brands that are free of SLS such as Biotene and Arm & Hammer Dental Care Tooth Powder.

Tiny cuts and scrapes inside your mouth can cause canker sores. Take care when eating jagged foods like chips and pretzels. When you brush your teeth, use a soft-bristled brush to avoid scraping your gums.

See your dentist if you have any kind of tooth problem that could irritate the inside of your mouth. Ill-fitting dentures, especially, can be a problem.

People plagued with frequent canker sores may have a deficiency in certain B vitamins or iron. Try taking a daily B-vitamin complex and a daily multivitamin/multimineral for iron. To get more B vitamins into your diet, look to beans, wheat germ, and fortified cereal. Lean beef is a good source of iron.
Stressful episodes trigger many cases of canker sores. If you tend to get a little wired, try some of the classic methods of keeping your cool — meditation, yoga, and aerobic exercise.

What’s Wrong?
A mysterious condition known medically as recurrent aphthous stomatitis, canker sores typically appear inside the lips or cheeks, around the gums, or on the tongue. They are white or yellowish, with a halo of red, ranging from the size of a pinhead to the dimensions of a quarter. Experts aren’t sure what causes them, but an immune-system malfunction is thought to play a role. A stressful episode or a mouth injury often precedes a breakout. Recurrent sores can also be brought on by eating certain foods.

Should I Call the Doctor?
If the pain is too distracting or it’s keeping you from eating or drinking, call your dentist. Definitely call the dentist if you have more than four sores at a time or if the sores last longer than two weeks. Also, if you find that you’re getting canker sores frequently, tell your dentist at your next visit so he or she can recommend evaluation and treatment, such as an antibiotic mouth rinse, a steroid ointment, a prescription oral paste, or chemical cautery of the sores. Here’s how to tell if your canker sore is actually something more serious.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest