How to Get Rid of Canker Sores: Home Treatment and Prevention Tips

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
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Most canker sores go away on their own after a few days. It’s not possible to prevent canker sores from forming. However, home treatments can help relieve pain while a sore heals. While canker sores can be very painful, they are rarely dangerous. However, if you have several canker sores or they are very large, medical treatment may be necessary.

This article will discuss home treatment tips for canker sores. It will also discuss steps to help lower your risk of canker sores and when to contact a doctor.

What are home treatments for canker sores?

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There is no cure for canker sores. However, some home treatments can help relieve pain and inflammation during the healing process.

Over-the-counter local anesthetics

These OTC medications come in the form of a gel or cream that you apply directly to the sore. Look for products that contain lidocaine or benzocaine, which act as local anesthetics to dull pain.

Medicated mouthwashes

Mouthwashes that contain antiseptics such as hydrogen peroxide or chlorhexidine gluconate can help promote healing. Some mouthwashes may also contain pain relieving medication. This treatment can be effective for people with recurring canker sores.

Anti-inflammatory pain relievers

OTC pain medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can help reduce pain and inflammation around a canker sore.

If you are pregnant, talk with your OB-GYN about what OTC pain medications are safe to take.

Salt water and baking soda rinse

Rinsing your mouth with a salt water and baking soda rinse can help reduce pain from canker sores. Your dentist or doctor can recommend the right mixture to use. Swish the solution in your mouth for a few seconds to rinse the canker sore, then spit.

Adapting your oral hygiene routine

Brushing your teeth may irritate your canker sore. However, it’s important to maintain proper oral hygiene as your canker sore heals. Try using a soft bristle brush, using gentle motions.

Because alcohol can trigger canker sore pain, choose a mouthwash without alcohol while you have a canker sore.

Avoiding certain foods

Some foods can aggravate canker sores and cause increased pain. A 2019 overview recommends avoiding certain types of foods when you have a canker sore, including:

  • hard, crispy, or crunchy foods, such as crackers or chips
  • foods that are hot in temperature
  • acidic foods, such as citrus fruits
  • spicy foods, such as hot sauce or curries
  • salty foods, such as nuts or popcorn
  • carbonated or acidic drinks, such as alcoholic beverages or sodas

Choosing cool or room temperature foods can help make eating meals easier. Drinking cold beverages through a straw or sucking on an ice pop or ice cubes can also help relieve canker sore pain.

Home treatment tips for canker sores

Here are some tips you can use to treat canker sores at home:

  • Apply OTC local anesthetics, such as gels or creams.
  • Use OTC pain relievers.
  • Rinse with medicated mouthwashes.
  • Avoid hot, spicy, acidic, and crunchy foods.
  • Avoid alcohol and carbonated beverages.
  • Rinse with a salt water mixture.

When to contact a doctor

In some situations, you may need medical treatment from a doctor for your canker sore. Contact your dentist or doctor if you have:

  • a canker sore that persists for more than two weeks
  • a large canker sore
  • several canker sores at once
  • severe pain that prevents you from eating, drinking, or sleeping

Your sores may be due to an underlying condition that requires prompt and accurate diagnosis. For severe or chronic canker sores, your doctor may recommend medical treatments.

What are medical treatments for canker sores?

If canker sore home care is not effective, your doctor may recommend treatments including:

  • prescription steroids, either as topical creams or oral tablets, to reduce inflammation
  • cauterization of the sore, using a laser procedure or a solution of silver nitrate
  • antibiotics, if an infection has developed
  • oral bandages, to prevent infection

Your canker sores or other type of mouth sores may be due to an underlying condition. In these cases, your doctor will work to treat that condition.

Oral sores can also be a side effect of certain treatments, such as chemotherapy. Your care team can provide guidance on managing this and other side effects.

What are risk factors and prevention tips for canker sores?

It’s not possible to completely prevent canker sores from forming. However, researchers have identified associated conditions and possible risk factors for developing canker sores, including:

  • age younger than 50, with most cases reported between ages 10 and 20
  • family history of canker sores
  • female sex assigned at birth
  • stress
  • weakened immune system
  • changes in hormones
  • nutrient deficiencies, such as iron or vitamin B
  • injury or trauma to the mouth lining

Preventing canker sores

It is not possible to fully prevent canker sores. However, you may be able to lower your risk by taking the following steps:

  • Maintain regular oral hygiene, including brushing and using a safe mouthwash.
  • Find ways to manage stress, if possible. Consider mindfulness practices or make time during the day for breaks when you can.
  • Get quality sleep, which can help reduce stress.
  • Eat a nutritious diet to maintain proper levels of important vitamins and nutrients.
  • Wear protective mouth guards when participating in sports or other physical activities.

Talk with your doctor if you have recurring canker sores. They can discuss your risk factors and recommend steps to help manage outbreaks.

Other frequently asked questions

These are some other questions people often ask about canker sore treatment. Debra Sullivan, Ph.D, MSN, RN, CNE, COI, has reviewed the answers.

How can I get rid of a canker sore overnight?

It is not possible for a canker sore to heal overnight. Most canker sores will go away on their own after about 2 weeks. Home treatments can help ease pain as the sore heals.

Can canker sores spread?

Canker sores are not contagious. Unlike cold sores, they are not caused by a virus and therefore cannot spread to others.

Q:

What is the white stuff in a canker sore?

A:

The white material in a canker sore is called “slough.” It is a mixture of white blood cells, bacteria, and dead tissue.

Debra Sullivan, Ph.D, MSN, RN, CNE, COI Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Summary

There is no cure for canker sores, but home treatment can ease pain as the sore heals. Most canker sores go away on their own after about two weeks.

Canker sore home remedies include OTC local anesthetics to numb pain, OTC pain relievers, salt water rinse, and avoiding hot or spicy foods.

Contact a doctor if your canker sore does not resolve with home treatment or you have severe pain that prevents you from eating. They can recommend medical treatments and help manage your risk of recurring canker sores.

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 25
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