Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Canker Sores
What are canker sores?
Canker sores are shallow, painful sores in your mouth. They are usually red or may sometimes have a white coating over them. You might get them on the inside of your lips, the insides of your cheeks or under your tongue. Canker sores are different from fever blisters, which usually are on the outside of your lips or the corners of your mouth.
Anyone can get canker sores, but people in their teens and 20s get them more often. Canker sores may run in families, but they aren't contagious. Doctors don't know what causes canker sores, but stress may be a factor.
What should I do when I get canker sores?
If you have small canker sores you can treat them at home. You can try taking ibuprofen (brand name: Advil) or acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol) for pain. Other medicines, such as Anbesol, Oragel, Orabase and Zilactin-B, might keep your canker sores from becoming irritated by eating, drinking or brushing your teeth. You put these medicines right on the sore.
You can also mix equal amounts of Milk of Magnesia and Benadryl Allergy liquid. After it's mixed, you can swish a teaspoonful in your mouth for about 1 minute and then spit it out. If you do this every 4 to 6 hours, your canker sores may hurt less.
Some people think that sucking on zinc lozenges, taking vitamin C or vitamin B complex, using a sage-and-chamomile mouthwash or taking a lysine supplement helps their canker cores heal faster. Doctors haven't studied these "home remedies", but you may want to try one or more of them.
When should I call my family doctor about canker sores?
If your canker sores are large, last longer than a week or are so sore that you can't eat, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. You should make an appointment with your doctor, too, if you also have a fever or feel sick when you have canker sores.
What can my doctor do to help my canker sores?
Several prescription medicines may help with canker sores. Your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory (Aphthasol or Kenalog in Orabase) or collagenase inhibitor (Tetracycline or Peridex) if problems persist. You can talk about them with your doctor to decide what is best for you.
What's the right way to use the medicine for my canker sores?
You may be asked to "swish and swallow" or "swish and spit" the medicine. This means that you swish the medicine around in your mouth, especially around your canker sore, for a few minutes before swallowing or spitting it out.
If your doctor has you use a medicine to put on the canker sore, you should dry the sore with a tissue. Next, put a small amount of medicine on a cotton swab (like a Q-Tip). Then, put the medicine on your canker sore using the cotton swab. Don't eat or drink for 30 minutes. If you do, the medicine will be washed away. Be sure to use the medicine for as many days as your doctor tells you to.
What can I do to prevent canker sores?
Unfortunately, doctor's don't know of anything that prevents canker sores from forming. If you get canker sores often, or if they're very painful, talk to your family doctor.