Canker sores affect millions of people. According to Dr. Ryne Johnson, managing partner at Newton Wellesley Dental Partners, “Canker sores are an occasional nuisance; while for others, they can be a continuous source of discomfort. If you’ve ever had a canker sore, you know it hurts”.

The actual cause of these annoying mouth ulcers, technically known as aphthous stomatitis, is unknown.

However, in some people, certain factors appear to trigger the onset of a canker sore.

Mouth injury/irritation

Nutritional deficiencies

Food irritation

Toothpaste with SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate)



There are no surefire cures currently available for canker sores; usually, you just have to let them run their course. However, there are several options for relieving canker sore pain. Consult with your dentist regarding which of the following remedies would work best for you:

  • Corticosteroids: These prescription gels or creams reduce the inflammation caused by canker sores.
  • Antibacterial mouthwashes: Only a few mouthwashes on the market have been clinically proven to reduce bacteria including, Listerine® and medicated mouthwashes that contain chlorhexidine gluconate. The latter ingredient can stain teeth, however, so use this only with the advice of your dentist or physician.
  • Pain-relieving (analgesic) gels: These contain the active ingredient benzocaine or diphenhydramine HCL to relieve pain; some even form a protective film over the canker sore. They are available over the counter. Stronger prescription analgesics are also available, especially those medications that contain 2 percent lidocaine.
  • Aphthasol: This medication, approved by the FDA, has been shown to reduce canker sore pain and shorten healing time.
  • Saltwater rinses: While questionable as an effective treatment for canker sores, rinsing with saltwater is completely safe and inexpensive, so give it a try. Just mix a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water, and gently swish the solution in your mouth for about a minute before you spit it out.
  • Herbal “tea” rinses: Naturopathic practitioners believe sage and thyme to be natural antiseptics. This has not been proven, but these herbs are safe and inexpensive. Immerse a few spoonfuls in a cup of hot water, allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, then rinse your mouth with it for about a minute and spit it out.
  • Acemannan hydrogel patch: Reports show that this treatment reduces the healing time, as well as the pain, of canker sores. The patch, which contains a form of aloe vera, has received FDA approval and is being sold as the Carrington Patch.
  • ORA5: This is a topical antibacterial compound that uses copper sulfate and iodine to cover the irritated area, greatly reducing the pain. It is relatively inexpensive (around $6) and is available without a prescription.

Why so much pain?

A sore on your mouth’s lining reacts differently than a sore on your skin. Because your mouth is a moist environment, the sore doesn’t dry out and scab over. This causes sensitive nerve endings to constantly be exposed to friction, foods, and beverages. Most canker sores heal within two weeks. If yours takes longer than that, or if it prevents you from eating or drinking, consult with your dentist.

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