How long do canker sores last?

Canker sores (aphthous ulcers) occur inside your mouth or on your gums. Although they can be painful and make it difficult to talk or eat, they usually don’t cause lasting damage. Most canker sores heal on their own within a couple of weeks.

Several home remedies can help speed up the healing process, but they’re no magic bullet. It’s unlikely any remedy will cure a canker sore overnight. Many home remedies for canker sores aren’t well-studied, so use with caution. You can also call your doctor’s office if you have questions.

Here are 16 home remedies to consider.

1. Alum powder

Alum powder is made from potassium aluminum sulfate. It’s often used to preserve food and to pickle vegetables. Alum has astringent properties that may help shrink tissues and dry out canker sores.

To use:

  1. Create a paste by mixing a tiny amount of alum powder with a drop of water.
  2. Dab the paste onto a canker sore.
  3. Leave on for at least 1 minute.
  4. Rinse your mouth thoroughly.
  5. Repeat daily until your canker sore is gone.
2. Salt water rinse

Rinsing your mouth with salt water is a go-to home remedy, although a painful one, for mouth sores of any kind. It may help dry out canker sores.

To use:

  1. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1/2 cup of warm water.
  2. Swirl this solution in your mouth for 15 to 30 seconds, then spit it out.
  3. Repeat every few hours as needed.
3. Baking soda rinse

Baking soda is thought to restore pH balance and reduce inflammation, which may heal canker sores.

To use:

  1. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1/2 cup of water.
  2. Swirl this solution in your mouth for 15 to 30 seconds, then spit it out.
  3. Repeat every few hours as needed.

Baking soda won’t harm you if swallowed, but it’s super salty, so try to avoid doing so.

4. Yogurt

The exact cause of canker sores is unknown. Some may be caused by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria or inflammatory bowel disease.

Studies from 2007 have shown that live probiotic cultures such as lactobacillus may help eradicate H. pylori and treat some types of inflammatory bowel disease. In theory, if either of those conditions cause your canker sores, eating yogurt that contains live probiotic cultures may help.

To aid in preventing or treating a canker sore, eat at least 1 cup of yogurt each day.

5. Honey

Honey is known for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory abilities. According to a 2014 study, honey is effective in reducing canker sore pain, size, and redness. It also may help prevent a secondary infection.

To use, apply honey to the sore four times daily.

All honey isn’t created equal. Most honey found at your grocery store is pasteurized at high heat, which destroys most nutrients. Unpasteurized, unfiltered honey, like Manuka honey, is less processed and retains its healing properties.

6. Coconut oil

Research has shown that coconut oil has antimicrobial abilities. It may cure canker sores caused by bacteria and prevent them from spreading. Coconut oil is also a natural anti-inflammatory and may help reduce redness and pain. It tastes great too!

To use, generously apply coconut oil to the sore. Reapply several times per day until your canker sore is gone.

7. Hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide promotes healing of a canker sore by cleaning the sore and reducing bacteria in your mouth.

To use:

  1. Dilute a 3 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide with equal parts water.
  2. Dip a cotton ball or cotton swab into the mixture.
  3. Apply the mixture directly to your canker sore a few times daily.

You can also use diluted hydrogen peroxide as a mouth rinse. Swish the rinse around your mouth for about a minute, and then spit it out.

8. Milk of magnesia

Milk of magnesia contains magnesium hydroxide. It’s an acid neutralizer and a laxative. Used orally, it may change the pH in your mouth so the sore can’t thrive. It also coats the sore to help prevent irritation and relieve pain.

To use:

  1. Apply a small amount of milk of magnesia to your canker sore.
  2. Let it sit for several seconds, then rinse.
  3. Repeat up to three times daily.
9. Chamomile compress

Chamomile is used as a natural remedy to heal wounds and ease pain. German chamomile contains two compounds with anti-inflammatory and antiseptic abilities: azulene and levomenol. A chamomile tea bag can serve as a compress to soothe canker sores.

To use, apply a wet chamomile tea bag to your canker sore, and leave it on for a few minutes. You can also rinse your mouth with freshly brewed chamomile tea. Repeat the treatment three to four times daily.

10. Echinacea

Echinacea’s wound-healing and immune-boosting powers may help heal canker sores or prevent them from forming.

To use:

  1. Add about 1 teaspoon of liquid echinacea to equal parts warm water.
  2. Swish the solution around your mouth for about 2 minutes.
  3. Spit out or swallow the mixture.

Rinsing your mouth with echinacea tea may also be beneficial. Repeat either treatment up to three times daily.

11. Sage mouthwash

Sage tea has traditionally been used to treat mouth inflammation. Sage mouthwash works as a general mouth rinse for many oral problems. It has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and astringent properties. It may also help relieve pain.

You can find sage mouthwash in most pharmacies and use as directed. Or you can make your own sage rinse:

  1. Add boiling water to 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh sage leaves.
  2. Steep for at least 5 minutes.
  3. Strain and let the solution cool.
  4. Swish the rinse around your mouth for a couple minutes.
  5. Swallow the rinse or spit it out.
12. DGL mouthwash

DGL mouthwash is made from deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), an herbal licorice extract. It’s thought to have anti-inflammatory abilities and is considered a natural remedy for stomach ulcers. DGL is available in supplement form, which you can use to make mouthwash.

To use:

  1. Mix the powder of one DGL capsule (200 milligrams) with 1 cup of warm water.
  2. Swish the solution around your mouth for about 3 minutes.
  3. Spit it out.

DGL is also available as a mouth patch to help shrink canker sores. You apply the patch to a sore and leave it in place for at least 30 minutes. If you think the patch is a good option for you, talk to your doctor or dentist about where to purchase it.

13. Apple cider vinegar mouthwash

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is touted as a cure for almost everything, including canker sores. It’s thought that the acid in ACV helps kill bacteria that irritate the sore. The treatment is controversial, however, because acidic foods can cause or worsen canker sores in some people. Use it with caution.

To use:

  1. Combine 1 teaspoon of ACV and 1 cup of water.
  2. Swish this mixture around your mouth for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  3. Spit it out, and rinse your mouth thoroughly.
  4. Repeat daily.

Many websites suggest applying ACV directly to canker sores with a cotton swab. This approach may decrease healing time in some people, but for others it could cause additional pain and irritation.

Either way, it’s important to rinse your mouth after using ACV to prevent damage to tooth enamel.

14. Zinc lozenges

If your immune system is weak, canker sores may thrive. Zinc is a mineral that boosts your immunity. Taking zinc lozenges regularly may help your immune system fight off bacteria that cause canker sores. It may also decrease healing time once you have a sore.

Zinc lozenges are available online and at most pharmacies. They may contain other ingredients such as echinacea. You usually dissolve one in your mouth. Check the manufacturer’s directions to see how often you should do so.

15. Vitamin B complex supplement

You may get canker sores more often if your diet is low in vitamin B-12. It’s unclear exactly how vitamin B-12 heals canker sores, however.

According to a 2017 study, participants taking 1,000 micrograms of vitamin B-12 daily had fewer canker sore outbreaks, fewer sores overall, and less pain than those taking a placebo.

Other B vitamins may also help. A vitamin B complex supplement contains all eight B vitamins, including B-12. Vitamin B complex supplements may cause side effects, so consult your doctor before use.

16. Watermelon frost

Watermelon frost has been considered an effective cure for canker sores in traditional Chinese medicine, though there are no current scientific studies to support this claim. It’s sold as a powder, tablet, and spray. It’s applied directly to the sore for pain relief and quicker healing.

You can buy watermelon frost from an Asian herb store or online, or try making your own.

A word of caution about buying Chinese herbs: It’s been reported that some have high levels of mercury, so be sure to purchase a quality product.

When to see your doctor

Most canker sores aren’t cause for concern. They seldom leave behind lasting side effects. Still, some canker sores justify a call to your doctor.

Talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • The sore is larger than normal.
  • You have multiple sores.
  • New sores form before old ones have healed.
  • The sore doesn’t heal after two weeks.
  • The sore spreads to your lips.
  • The sore causes extreme pain.
  • The sore makes eating or drinking intolerable.
  • You also have a fever.

You should also contact your doctor or dentist if a jagged or sharp tooth or a dental hygiene tool is the reason for your canker sores.

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