Mouth ulcers may look tiny and inconsequential but the stinging pain and discomfort they cause can drive anyone over the edge. It doesn’t help that they make eating, drinking, and even talking difficult. Hot food, injury in the mouth, say, by ill-fitting dentures, and biting the inside of the cheek can all cause a mouth ulcer. So can your genes, stress, or certain chronic medical conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease. Hormonal changes such as those seen during pregnancy can also be a trigger. Discomfiting as they are, mouth ulcers are usually not serious and tend to clear up by themselves in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, some natural remedies can help you tackle them, ease pain, and speed along the recovery.1 It’s easy to confuse mouth ulcers with two conditions, so before you start any of these remedies, make sure you don’t have:
- Lichen planus: If you have many ulcers in your mouth, it may be caused by a medical condition such as hand, foot, and mouth disease or oral lichen planus. Hand, foot, and mouth disease can result in a rash on the feet and hands while people with oral lichen planus get a lacy white pattern inside their cheeks.2 The home remedies for lichen planus are quite different from the ones mentioned here.
- Cold sores: caused by the herpes simplex virus, cold sores are highly contagious, painful small blisters on your lips, around your mouth, and even on your gums, mouth, or throat. The blisters are often preceded by a burning, tingling, or itching sensation, and possibly a fever, sore throat, or swollen glands.3 Cold sores need a separate line of treatment.
1. Rinse With Salt Water
A simple and effective remedy for a mouth sore is salt water. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt in a cup of water and swish around before spitting it out. Salt water has antiseptic as well as anti-inflammatory properties which can help with canker sores.
2. Try A Sage Mouthwash
The culinary herb sage can also work wonders if you have a canker sore and has, in fact, traditionally been used as a remedy for this condition. It has antibacterial and astringent properties which help tackle these uncomfortable sores and help heal them. Prepare a strong sage tea and use it as a mouthwash two to three times a day for relief.4
3. Rinse With A Licorice Solution
A licorice mouthwash may be just the thing to heal your mouth ulcers. One study found that people with canker sores who used a mouthwash with this herb experienced significant benefits – 75% of participants found that the sores improved by 50 to 75% within a single day. By the third day, they had completely healed.5 Add 200 mg of deglycyrrhizinated (DGL) licorice to 200 ml of warm water and mix well. Use this solution as a mouthwash four times daily till you heal. Make sure that you swish the mouthwash around for a few minutes to give it time to work.6
While a plain licorice extract will also work for this purpose, DGL licorice is thought to be safer. DGL licorice is basically licorice from which a component known as glycyrrhizin is removed. While glycyrrhizin has many benefits, it can cause side effects like high BP and edema when overused. To be safe for use across all categories of people, many licorice supplements are stabilized by removing this component.
4. Apply Honey
Here’s a common remedy for mouth ulcers that’s available in nearly every home! This sweetener is well-known for its antibacterial and wound-healing properties. In one study, participants applied honey to canker sores four times daily for five days. Honey not only helped eased the pain and reddening due to the ulcer but also reduced the size of the ulcers.7
5. Use Turmeric Paste
Turmeric is commonly used in Southeast Asian communities for healing wounds. A potent antioxidant compound called curcumin present in this spice is known to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving properties. One study looked at the effect of a gel containing 2% curcumin on mouth ulcers. Applying this ointment significantly reduced the size of mouth ulcers as well as pain compared to a placebo. You can also try applying a thick paste of turmeric powder and water with a cotton swab to heal canker sores. Wash after 15–20 minutes.8
6. Try A Chamomile Mouthwash
Chamomile is another herb known for its healing capacity. Prepare a strong tea and swish it around in your mouth three to four times daily to heal canker sores. Flavonoids such as luteolin, apigenin, and quercetin present in this herb give it anti-inflammatory properties. These enable the herb to soothe the mucous membrane lining your mouth.9
7. Dab With A Myrrh Tincture
Myrrh has been used traditionally for tackling mouth irritations. This resin has healing properties and can ease canker sores. Since myrrh is quite gummy in nature, it’s not possible to make a tea out of it. But you can dab the mouth ulcer with the tincture. Traditional healers also suggest mixing 4 ml of the tincture with water and swishing it around in your mouth like a mouth rinse.10
8. Rinse With Witch Hazel
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and steer clear of salty, spicy, acidic, hot, and crunchy to avoid irritating a mouth ulcer further.
Witch hazel contains tannins which give it astringent properties. This herb may ease inflammation too. All in all, a worthwhile combination to ease canker sores and relieve pain. Prepare a tea from the leaves or bark of witch hazel and use it as a mouthwash to combat mouth ulcers.11
9. Avoid Sodium Lauryl Sulfate-Based Toothpaste
Is your toothpaste to blame for your canker sores? Research shows that sodium lauryl sulfate, which is a detergent present in some toothpastes, can potentially cause canker sores. It is thought to do this by removing the protective layer of mucin in your mouth. One study found that merely using a sodium lauryl sulfate-free toothpaste for 3 months reduced the number of canker sores from 14.3 to 5.1 on average in participants.12
10. Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Vitamin B, Zinc, And Iron
If you are grappling with mouth sores once too often, it’s also a good idea to probe for underlying causes. Studies have found that people who frequently get canker sores may suffer from nutritional deficiencies in vitamin B, zinc, folic acid, or iron.13 So if you find that you’re getting them frequently, get yourself checked out to see if you are running low on any of these vital nutrients. You can also tank up on foods rich in these to avoid mouth sores.
- Zinc sources include oysters, poultry, dairy products, and whole grains.14
- Iron sources include meat, white beans, spinach, kidney beans, seafood, and poultry.15
- B vitamins can be consumed through a healthy balanced diet containing whole grains and fruits and vegetables. Vitamin B12 and folate have been specifically identified as being beneficial to those prone to mouth ulcers. You will need to get vitamin B12 from animal sources such as cheese, milk, meat, or egg and folate from green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, and peas.16
See A Doctor If
- Your mouth ulcer doesn’t heal for a long time (3 weeks). Though rare, an ulcer that doesn’t heal can sometimes be a sign of cancer. It’s always a good idea to get it checked out.
- You get recurrent mouth ulcers.
- If your ulcer becomes increasingly more red and painful as this might point to an infection.17
|↑1, ↑2, ↑17||Mouth ulcers. National Health Service.|
|↑3||Herpes – oral. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑4||Castleman, Michael. The New Healing Herbs: The Essential Guide to More Than 125 of Nature’s Most Potent Herbal Remedies. Rodale, 2010.|
|↑5||Das, S. K., V. Das, A. K. Gulati, and V. P. Singh. “Deglycyrrhizinated liquorice in aphthous ulcers.” The Journal of the Association of Physicians of India 37, no. 10 (1989): 647-647.|
|↑6||Canker Sores (Holistic). University of Michigan.|
|↑7||El-Haddad, Sally A., Faris Yahya L. Asiri, Hamod Hussain Al-Qahtani, and Abdullah Saud Al-Ghmlas. “Efficacy of honey in comparison to topical corticosteroid for treatment of recurrent minor aphthous ulceration: a randomized, blind, controlled, parallel, double-center clinical trial.” Quintessence International 45, no. 8 (2014).|
|↑8||Manifar, S., A. Obwaller, A. Gharehgozloo, H. R. Boorboor Shirazi Kordi, and S. Akhondzadeh. “Curcumin gel in the treatment of minor aphthous ulcer: A randomized, placebo-controlled trial.” فصلنامه علمی پژوهشی گیاهان دارویی 1, no. 41 (2012): 40-45.|
|↑9||Chamomile. University of Michigan.|
|↑10||Myrrh. University of Michigan.|
|↑11||Witch Hazel. University of Michigan.|
|↑12||Herlofson, Bente Brokstad, and Pål Barkvoll. “Sodium lauryl sulfate and recurrent aphthous ulcers: a preliminary study.” Acta Odontologica Scandinavica 52, no. 5 (1994): 257-259.|
|↑13||Messadi, Diana V., and Fariba Younai. “Aphthous ulcers.” Dermatologic therapy 23, no. 3 (2010): 281-290.|
|↑14||Zinc. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑15||Iron. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑16||Vitamin B. Department of Health & Human Services.|