a woman suffering from a canker sore

Canker Sore Treatments and Remedies

Canker sores are small lesions that develop inside the mouth, usually on the tongue, cheeks, inside of the lip, throat, or the soft palate. Since they are not contagious, the biggest problem with canker sores is that they can interfere with eating and drinking due to pain.

Canker sores can range from small and painless lesions that disappear in a week to large, very painful sores that may require medical attention to properly heal. Fortunately, there are medical treatments and home remedies that can alleviate canker sore pain and promote healing.

Canker Sore Medical Treatments

There are many medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that can be used to treat the pain and inflammation of canker sores, as well as speed the healing process.

  • Topical medications – There are several options for pastes, creams, gels, and liquids that can be used to speed healing and relieve the pain of canker sores. The active ingredients usually include benzocaine, fluocinonide, or hydrogen peroxide.

    These medications tend to be the most effective if they are applied as soon as you begin to experience the early burning and tingling sensations of a canker sore. Most products including the active ingredients listed above can be found in your local drug store, but if a stronger dose is needed, your doctor may prescribe the same drug in a higher strength.
  • Oral medications – Usually an oral medication is only prescribed if a canker sore is severe enough that it lasts longer than 10-14 days and/or does not respond to other types of treatment. One medication that might be prescribed in Carafate, which is normally used for intestinal ulcers since it acts as a coating agent. Colchine is another option, which is normally intended to treat gout.

    As a last resort, oral steroids might be prescribed if the canker sores get serious enough. Since these types of medications can have potentially very serious side effects, doctors will usually try to avoid this avenue of treatment if possible.
  • Rinses – Rinses are usually prescribed in response to multiple canker sores on the inside of the mouth at once. A mouth rinse for canker sores may include ingredients such as the steroid dexamethasone and lidocaine. These ingredients work together to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Cautery – This method includes burning, searing, or destroying the tissue of the sore in order to either reduce the healing time or relieve the pain of a canker sore. One option that uses chemical burning to reduce healing time is a topical solution called debacterol. Silver nitrate is another option that uses chemical burning to relieve the pain associated with some severe canker sores.
  • Vitamins and Minerals - In addition to these methods of treatment, your doctor might prescribe a nutritional supplement that includes folic acid, vitamin B-6, zinc, or vitamin B-12 if a lack of nutrients in your diet seems to be contributing to the reccurrence of canker sores.

Canker Sore Home Remedies

There are some other tips that don’t require a doctor’s visit or a trip to the drug store to help relieve the pain associated with your canker sores. Some common home remedies include:

  • Salt water – rinsing your mouth with warm salt water can help speed the healing of sores inside your mouth. Baking soda rinse is another option that achieves a similar affect.
  • Avoiding harsh foods – Acidic or spicy foods can cause further irritation to the sores.
  • Ice – Dissolving ice chips on the surface of the sores can help numb the area and reduce any pain.
  • Milk of magnesia – Applying a small amount of milk of magnesia to your sores a few times a day will help with the healing process.
  • Brush gently – Use foam-agent-free toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush to avoid making any sores worse as well as preventing any other sores that may have resulted from brushing too vigorously. 
Last Updated: April 24, 2015