How to Relieve Canker Sores

Avoiding spicy and acidic foods is one way to ease your canker sore pain.

Avoiding spicy and acidic foods is one way to ease your canker sore pain.

If you’ve ever had a small, white or gray sore with a red border inside your mouth, you know how painful canker sores can be.

Less than one centimeter in diameter, these ulcers often affect the soft areas of the mouth, including the tongue, cheek and lips.

Their specific cause is still unknown, but canker sores can be triggered by trauma (such as biting your cheek), food sensitivity or allergy, stress, hormonal changes, nutritional deficiencies or a weakened immune system. Some experts also believe bacterial or viral infections may be involved. (It’s important to note that canker sores are different from cold sores. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and are found mostly outside the mouth on the lips, chin, cheeks or in the nostrils; canker sores are found only inside the mouth.)

Feeling cranky about cankers? Unfortunately, you can’t get rid of canker sores completely, but you can relieve the pain and hurry the healing with these tips:

  • Avoid eating spicy or citrus-based foods that will irritate the sores and cause increased discomfort.
  • Apply over-the-counter ointments that contain phenol. Some medicines help numb the pain of the canker sore, while others protect the surface of the sore from irritation.
  • If you haven’t already, switch to toothpaste that doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a chemical found to cause and aggravate canker sores. Visit to see a list of SLS-free products.

Canker sores aren’t contagious and typically heal on their own after one or two weeks. If you’re cursed with frequent canker sores, consult your dentist to discuss antibiotic options.

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