Fixing Canker Sores

Canker sores are small, shallow lesions that develop on the tissues of the mouth and gums. Unlike cold sores, canker sores only occur inside the mouth and aren't contagious. No one likes having canker sores. They are painful and can make eating and talking difficult or uncomfortable. Although most canker sores go away on their own in a week or two, here are some tips to help treat canker sores to heal more quickly.

What Causes Canker Sores?

What exactly causes canker sores is unclear. Possible triggers include:

  • Minor injuries to the mouth from dental work, brushing too hard, sports mishaps or an accidental cheek bite
  • Toothpastes and mouth rinses containing sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Food sensitivities, particularly to chocolate, coffee, strawberries, eggs, nuts, cheese, and spicy or acidic foods
  • A diet lacking essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B-12, zinc, or iron
  • An allergic response to certain bacteria in the mouth
  • Hormonal shifts or emotional stress

Fixing Canker Sores

Most canker sores heal on their own within a week or two. But large, persistent or unusually painful sores often need medical care. If you experience frequent canker sores, here are some possible treatment options:

  • Mouth rinses: Your dentist may try prescribing a mouth rinse containing the steroid dexamethasone to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Topical products: There are over-the-counter and prescription topical products (pastes, creams, gels or liquids) available to help relieve pain and speed healing if applied to sores. Ask your dentist for advice on which may work best for you.
  • Oral medications: When sores are severe and do not respond to topical treatments, oral medications may be needed.
  • Cautery of sores: Using an instrument or a special chemical, the gum tissue is burned or destroyed to treat sores, speed up healing, and reduce pain.
  • Nutritional supplements: If your dentist thinks your recurring sores are the result of a diet lacking vitamins and minerals, they may prescribe a nutritional supplement such as folate (folic acid), vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 or zinc.
  • Related health problems: If your canker sores are related to a serious underlying health problem, your dentist will try to treat the more serious health problem.
  • In-home fixes: To help relieve pain and speed up healing, consider rinsing your mouth with a salt water or baking soda rinse daily (dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1/2 cup warm water). Another option is applying a small amount of milk of magnesia on your canker sore a few times a day. While you are waiting for your sores to heal, avoid abrasive, acidic or spicy foods that can cause further discomfort and avoid brushing your teeth aggressively.

Preventing Canker Sores

You may be able to reduce the frequency of or prevent canker sores by:

  • Watching your diet. Avoid foods that irritate the mouth. This is different for everyone, but it may help to avoid nuts, chips, pretzels, certain spices, salty foods and acidic fruits, such as pineapple, grapefruit and oranges. It also helps to eat a diet rich in vitamins and minerals to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
  • Practice good oral hygiene habits. Brushing twice daily after meals and flossing once a day can keep your mouth clean and free of foods that might trigger a sore.
  • Protect your mouth. If you have braces or other dental appliances that are rough on the inside of your mouth, ask your dentist for ways to reduce any pain or discomfort.
  • Reduce your stress. If you notice your canker sores may be related to stress, learn some stress-reduction techniques and try to practice to reduce your regular stress and avoid sores.

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