Effectively treating canker sores can help reduce pain and speed the healing process.
There are various home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments for canker sores, such as:
- Mouth rinses, like a saltwater or hydrogen peroxide rinse
- Natural products, such as honey
- OTC medicines, like Benadryl or milk of magnesia
When such remedies aren't enough, a prescription canker treatment like tetracycline may be needed.
This article will go over ways to get rid of canker sores. You'll also learn when to call your provider or dentist about a canker sore instead of trying to use home remedies.
What Are Canker Sores?
Canker sores are common ulcers in the mouth. They are usually small and shallow and form at the base of thegums. Cankers are also called aphthous ulcers.
Cankers usually start with a tingling sensation but can become painful. Some people may hesitate to talk, eat, or drink because of the discomfort of a canker sore.
What Causes Mouth Ulcers?
Click Play to Learn About the Potential Causes of Canker Sores
This video has been medically reviewed by Brian T. Luong, DMD
What Causes Canker Sores?
The exact cause of canker sores is unknown, but there are some common triggers, including:
- Hurting your mouth or gums (e.g., having dental work, biting your cheek, or wearing dentures that don't fit well)
- Irritating foods (e.g., acidic fruits and vegetables; coffee, chocolate) or food allergies
- Vitamin deficiencies (e.g., vitamin B-12, folate, iron, and zinc)
- Certain medications (e.g., some arthritis drugs, chemotherapy)
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Certain medical conditions (e.g., Celiac disease, Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Immunodeficiency disorders, Helicobacter pylori)
Are Cankers Contagious?
Canker sores are not contagious. You can't catch them from someone else or give them to someone else.
How to Tell a Cold Sore from a Canker
How Long Do Canker Sores Last?
Canker sores usually heal on their own within a week or two.
Home remedies may reduce inflammation and bacteria, making the sores hurt less until they get better.
Many OTC pastes, gels, and liquid treatments can temporarily relieve pain and speed up the healing of cankers. The options work best if you apply them directly to each canker sore as soon as it appears.
Your pharmacist, provider, or dentist can advise which canker treatment is best for you.
What Causes Cankers?
Home Remedies for Cankers
Avoiding canker sore triggers is a good place to start. You can also try home remedies to reduce pain and help the sores heal.
Salt Water and Sodium Bicarbonate
Saline (salt water) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) can help cankers heal faster by reducing acid levels in your mouth.
This creates an environment that makes it harder for bacteria to grow, which can help the healing process. Saltwater rinses can also promote healthy gums.
How to Make a Salt Water Rinse
Never put salt directly on an ulcer. Instead, make a saltwater solution by mixing one teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm water.
Swish it in your mouth or gargle it for about 30 seconds, then spit it out. It may sting at first.
Putting salt directly on a canker sore can make it worse. Instead, make a saltwater solution and gently rinse your mouth with it.
How to Make a Baking Soda Paste
Mix a little baking soda with a small amount of water until it thickens. Put the paste on your canker sore(s). Repeat as often as needed while your mouth heals.
How to Make a Salt Water Rinse
Hydrogen Peroxide Solution
Hydrogen peroxide is an antiseptic that can help keep your sore free of bacteria, which will help it heal.
How to Make a Hydrogen Peroxide Rinse
Mix one part hydrogen peroxide with one part water. Dab the solution on your canker sore with a cotton swab.
If you're using a hydrogen peroxide solution to rinse your mouth, do not swallow it.
How to Safely Use Hydrogen Peroxide
Studies have found that honey has healing properties, including for canker sores.
How to Use Honey
Applying honey to the sore several times daily can help reduce pain and decrease ulcer size and redness.
You can also use honey as a canker sore remedy by mixing it with a soothing tea such as chamomile and drinking several cups daily.
Studies have found that chamomile is helpful by itself for healing sores in the mouth.
Can Honey Help Heal Wounds?
Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which can help fight harmful bacteria in the body.
How to Rinse With Coconut Oil
Daily swishingwith about a tablespoon of coconut oil—a practice known as oil pulling—may help reduce bacteria in the mouth, promote gum health, and aid the healing process.
What Is Oil Pulling?
How to Make a Triple Mix for Mouth Sores
Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
Another antibacterial household staple, apple cider vinegar, can be used in a rinse to help heal your canker sores.
How to Make an Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
Mix a teaspoon of the vinegar into a cup of water. Swish the solution around your mouth for up to a minute. Then spit and rinse your mouth thoroughly.
An apple cider vinegar rinse may sting. You also don't want to use the rinse more than once a day because vinegar is highly acidic and can damage tooth enamel.
What Can You Use Apple Cider Vinegar For?
While research has not shown sage to help canker sores specifically, it has been found effective as an anti-inflammatory agent. Therefore, using a mouthwash made with sage might help soothe a canker sore.
Sage mouth rinses are available OTC and can also be made at home.
How to Make a Sage Mouth Rinse
Take about six sage leaves or a tablespoon of dried sage and boil in water, then drain so the sage is removed. Let cool. Swish in your mouth for around a minute, then spit out.
Watermelon frost is an anti-inflammatory Chinese medicine that can be purchased online. It is often sold in spray form and has been found to relieve pain from mouth ulcers.
One 2022 meta-analysis looked at the effectiveness of watermelon frost alone and in combination with three other medications. The researchers concluded that the most effective combination for treating canker sores was watermelon frost and erythromycin (an antibiotic).
OTC Canker Treatments
You can find several non-prescription treatments for canker sores in the dental care section of your supermarket or drugstore.
Oral Health Products
- Antiseptic mouth rinses contain ingredients that help heal mouth sores by reducing the bacteria in your mouth.
- Oral care products that numb painful areas in the mouth are useful while waiting for a canker to heal.
- Products marketed for mouth sores provide pain relief and support canker sore healing. These products come in gel, paste, and rinse forms.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using OTC products. Do not use more than one OTC product at the same time or mix them with treatments that have been prescribed for you unless your pharmacist or provider says it's OK.
Can You Use Caphosol for Cankers?
Milk of Magnesia
Milk of magnesia is a liquid suspension of magnesium hydroxide. It is frequently used as an antacid and laxative to relieve constipation. Milk of magnesia can also help reduce canker sore pain by neutralizing acid and coating the ulcer.
The best way to put milk of magnesia into a canker is with a cotton swab. You can apply it three to four times a day. You may want to wear it after rinsing your mouth with hydrogen peroxide.
Liquid Benadryl (diphenhydramine), an allergy medication, can also help reduce inflammation and encourage the healing of a canker sore. Benadryl is very useful for mouth ulcers caused by food allergies or sensitivities.
You can combine liquid Benadryl with milk of magnesia to make an oral rinse. Mix one part of each and rinse with the solution for one minute, then spit it out. Do not swallow it.
What to Know About Using Benadryl
Prescription Treatments for Cankers
Prescription medication is sometimes necessary to treat persistent or infected canker sores.
One treatment your dentist can prescribe is tetracycline suspension (liquid). You must hold the medicine in your mouth for two to five minutes before swallowing it.
Tetracycline is usually not prescribed for children with canker sores because it can cause permanent discoloration in developing teeth.
Your dentist may prescribe corticosteroids like prednisone and dexamethasone for severe canker sores.
Dexamethasone suspension (liquid) can be used as an oral rinse that you hold in your mouth, then spit out.
What Are Corticosteroids Used For?
When to See a Dentist for a Canker Sore
You might need something else if you have a canker sore that does not improve with home remedies or OTC treatment.
It's important to be seen by a healthcare provider who can prescribe the right treatment. Call your dentist if you have the following:
- A canker sore that lasts for 14 days or longer
- A sore that is getting worse
- A canker sore that grows in size or is unusually large
- Frequent outbreaks of canker sores
- Extreme pain that you cannot control
- Sores on your lips
You can reduce canker sore pain and support healing with some OTC and at-home remedies like salt water rinses, honey, and oral health products.
If you have canker sores that hurt or return, it's time to see a healthcare provider. They can find out why you have cankers and prescribe the best treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will salt heal a canker sore?
Using salt on a canker sore will not help it heal and can be very painful. Instead, try using a salt water rinse and applying a baking soda paste to the sore.
These mixtures make it harder for bacteria in your mouth to grow, which gives the sore a chance to heal.
What is the best treatment for a canker sore on the tongue?
The fastest and best way to treat a canker sore on the tongue is usually with an OTC oral care product.
You can get them as a gel, paste, or rinse at your local pharmacy or grocery store in the dental care section.
Does Listerine help canker sores?
Using a mouthwash like Listerine that has alcohol in it can irritate sores or sensitive areas in your mouth.
Can kids get canker sores?
Kids can get cankers just like adults can.
The same triggers, such as allergies, nutritional deficiencies, or poor oral hygiene, can cause them.
You can help a child with a canker sore by having them swish with salt water (make sure they don't swallow it) and use OTC products to ease discomfort while the mouth is healing. If your child gets cankers often, let their dentist know.
What to Do If Your Child Keeps Getting Cankers