4 Natural Ways to Relieve Canker Sores

Canker sores, also called apthous ulcers, are small, painful ulcers inside the mouth. They typically have a red border, are not contagious, and may occur on your tongue, inside your cheeks or lips, and on floor of your mouth.

Although canker sores are common, in many cases the cause is unknown. They generally take one to two weeks to heal.

Chamomile flowers dried tea in wooden bowl
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Natural Canker Sore Remedies

Although no alternative remedy has been proven effective for canker sores, certain remedies may provide some relief. Keep in mind that it is essential that you consult your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms. 

German Chamomile

Chamomile is a herb that has been used traditionally for thousands of years for a variety of conditions such as sore throat, gingivitis, eczema, psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome, colds, abscesses, and ulcerative colitis.

Chamomile is also used to relieve pain in people with canker sores. In one preliminary study, 82% of people taking a German chamomile extract reported "excellent" pain relief. The study didn't include a placebo group, however, so it's impossible to know the true effectiveness of German chamomile in this study.

People with allergies to ragweed, chrysanthemum, aster, or feverfew should avoid chamomile because it is in the same plant family. Allergic reactions which require urgent medical attention may include swollen eyes and lips, itching, hives, throat tightness, and shortness of breath.

Chamomile may interact with sedative medications, alcohol, and anti-clotting and ​anti-platelet ("blood-thinning") medications such as warfarin (Coumadin).

Lady's Mantle

The herb lady's mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) has been used as a folk remedy for mouth and throat infections, menopausal ailments, painful menstrual periods, and skin rashes.

One preliminary study examined the effectiveness of a gel containing lady's mantle (3% extract of lady's mantle) in glycerine in 48 people with canker sores. People applied the gel three times daily. After three days, the lady's mantle gel relieved discomfort and healed canker sores in 75% of people, compared with 40 percent who used commonly available treatments and 33.3% who used no treatment.

Vitamin B12

People with recurrent canker sores have been found to be low in vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 also called cobalamin, is a water-soluble B vitamin that is important for maintaining nerve cells, producing DNA and RNA (our genetic material), forming red blood cells, helping iron function better in the body, improving immune function, and helping the body withstand stress.

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue, shortness of breath, nervousness, diarrhea, and numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes. People who are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency are those who have had stomach surgery, follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, have certain intestinal infections such as tapeworm or Helicobacter pylori, or have an eating disorder.

Vitamin B12 supplements should not be taken with the antibiotic tetracycline, because it may reduce the effectiveness of the antibiotic.

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL)

A form of the herb licorice, called deglycyrrhizinated licorice or DGL, has been explored for canker sores in a small study. By the third day of the study, 75 percent or 15 people had complete healing of canker sores. The study lacked a placebo group, however, which makes it impossible to conclude from this study that DGL was effective.

The study used a mouthwash made of powdered DGL mixed with water. DGL is different from crude licorice because it has had the glycyrrhizic acid removed, the portion that can increase blood pressure. Alternatively, DGL tablets can be allowed to dissolve in the mouth.

How They're Different From Cold Sores

Cold sores are found on the lips, gums, or the hard part of the roof of your mouth (hard palate) and are extremely contagious.

Using Natural Remedies

It's important to see a doctor, especially if canker sores recur because they can be a symptom of another condition, such as celiac disease, Behcet's syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and squamous cell carcinoma.

Due to a lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend any remedy for canker sores. Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements but if you're considering the use of alternative medicine, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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