Best treatment for mouth ulcers / canker sores

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Gemma Wheeler

(GDC Number: 83940)

Best Treatment For Mouth Ulcers / Canker Sores

Introduction

Even if you have only ever had 1 ulcer, you can probably remember quite vividly how something no bigger than a pin head was very uncomfortable to live with.

Time is one of the best healers for a canker sore (another name for an ulcer) and most will disappear within a few days or at worst weeks, but it can be very hard to ignore this uncomfortable sore in the mouth.

Eating, drinking and generally getting on with life can be interrupted.

If you have never experienced an ulcer, we are not talking about excruciating get me to ER type pain, but a discomfort that has a tendency to remind you it is present, just when you have kind of forgotten about it.

You could say they are more of an irritation than anything.

Thankfully modern medicine and the desire to find solutions to all of life’s little problems means that there are a number of products available today that can help manage the discomfort and presence of canker sores.

I don’t want to mislead you, so let me be clear that there isn’t 1 product that is the miracle cure for all moth ulcers.

The suggested products are designed primarily to assist with the most common aphthous ulcer.

In most instances, when used, these products can ease the pain or discomfort and help the ulcer heal faster.

Those who have had 1 or more ulcers will probably agree that for the few dollars it costs to buy these products, it is will worth it, if the discomfort can be eased.

I will explain a lot more about ulcers and what you can do to help prevent getting them and understanding more about them, but before I do, here is a list of the best products available today to help with treating ulcers.

I have linked to products on Amazon for convenience.  However, many of these, along with similar alternatives will be available in local drug and grocery stores.

Keep reading for our advice on the best treatment for canker sores / mouth ulcers. 

Best Mouthwash For Ulcers

Preview Product Rating Price
GUM Rincinol P.R.N. Alcohol-Free Mouth Sore Rinse, 4 Ounce Bottle GUM Rincinol P.R.N. Alcohol-Free Mouth Sore Rinse, 4 Ounce Bottle 262 Reviews $8.99 $7.71
Colgate Peroxyl Mouth Sore Rinse, Mild Mint - 500mL, 16.9 fluid ounces Colgate Peroxyl Mouth Sore Rinse, Mild Mint - 500mL, 16.9 fluid ounces 841 Reviews
CloSYS Ultra Sensitive Mouthwash, 32 Ounce, Unflavored (Optional Flavor Dropper Included), Alcohol Free, Dye Free, pH Balanced, Helps Soothe Mouth Sensitivity, Kills Germs that Cause Bad Breath CloSYS Ultra Sensitive Mouthwash, 32 Ounce, Unflavored (Optional Flavor Dropper Included), Alcohol... 1,472 Reviews
Gengigel 150ml Mouth Rinse Gengigel 150ml Mouth Rinse 1 Reviews $19.54
Colgate Total Advanced Pro-Shield Mouthwash, Peppermint Blast - 33.8 oz Colgate Total Advanced Pro-Shield Mouthwash, Peppermint Blast - 33.8 oz 14 Reviews $13.68
Orajel Antiseptic Mouth Sore Rinse, 16 Fluid Oz Orajel Antiseptic Mouth Sore Rinse, 16 Fluid Oz 129 Reviews $12.93

Best Gels For Ulcers

Mouthwash tends to be the more popular option for ulcers, but some people prefer gels.  I suggest trying out one of the following.

To better understand an ulcer and what you can do to help yourself, why not read on and learn more about how or why and ulcer forms and what steps you can take to treat it.

What is an ulcer?

An ulcer, also known as a canker sore is a painful sore that can be found anywhere within the mouth.  It is a break in the continuous outer layer of your skin (or mucous membrane in the mouth).

When present, a canker sore can make eating, drinking and even talking uncomfortable.

Over half of the American population get canker sores according to The American Academy of Oral Medicine with the minor aphthous ulcer being the most common.

According to Kathryn Gilliam they occur most commonly in women, starting between 10 and 20 years old.

The good news, although it is perhaps somewhat surprising is that most clear up fairly quickly (1-2 weeks), with no need for medical treatment.

Types of aphthous ulcers

There are 3 types of aphthous ulcers.

  • Minor
  • Major
  • Herpetiform

Of those who get apthous ulcers, only 5% get herpetiform, with 15% getting major aphthous ulcers and the vast majority, the remaining 80% suffering with the minor ulcer.

You can get just 1 ulcer or you may even have up to 5 or so at a time.

Each is usually round or oval shaped approximately 0.4 inches in diameter with a yellow/white color to them.

For a more technical name, the recurrent aphthous stomatitis will make the gum, cheek and lip tissue around them look quite inflamed, Red and swollen.

When you get a canker sore, they are uncomfortable rather than being really painful.  The motion of the lips and mouth tissues against each other irritates and aggravates.

The sores last on average for 1-2 weeks and will burst within a day or 2 of formation, leaving a thin, greyish, white colored membrane behind.

Healing will happen naturally and you should not be left with any lasting scars or evidence of ever having had a canker sore.

Herpetiform aphthous ulcers are another fairly comment type of ulcers.

As you might expect, major and herpetiform ulcers are worse than the more typical minor canker sore.

Generally bigger in size, you get 1 or 2 at the same time.

A major ulcer can last more than the 1-2 weeks of a minor ulcer too.  Expect them to be present for anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 or 4 months!

Sadly, these major ulcers do tend to leave scarring too.

Herpetiform ulcers may sound like some form of mutation from the sexually transmitted disease, but they are not linked.

Small in size like the minor ulcers, in this instance you can have as many as 100 appearing at the same time.  The grouping of these sores actually causes them to sort of merge and form into a large irregularly shaped sore.

They can last for just a couple of weeks, but it can be for several months that they remain in the mouth.

Sadly, life can be miserable if you suffer from these due to the associate pain and discomfort.

You might be surprised that there is no cure but the fact is that professionals are still unclear on what causes this ulceration.  Continual study and reviews are ongoing and in 2011, a team at the Department of Oral Pathology, SRM Dental College and Hospital, Kattankulathur, India concluded:

‘Recurrent apthous stomatitis is a very common, recurrent painful ulceration occurring in the oral cavity. The etiopathogenesis of this disease is yet unclear. Treatment strategies must be directed toward providing symptomatic relief by reducing pain, increasing the duration of ulcer-free periods, and accelerating ulcer healing.’

We can only hope that in time the understanding and treatment of ulcers of this type becomes better understood.

Causes of and catching ulcers

Whilst the cause of these ulcers remains unclear (Merk Manual) the understanding is such that we know that you cannot just catch these canker sores.

The ulcer itself is not infectious and you are not considered contagious when you have them.  (Sorry to disappoint you if you wanted a few days off work!)

Whether you are an occasional suffer of ulcers or you get them quite frequently, you might be please to know that as your body changes you can essentially grow out of them.  This is not a guarantee, but gives some comfort in knowing that you may not have to suffer all your life.

The ulcers are idiopathic – that means they appear to develop for no apparent reason, in perfectly fit and healthy people.  It has not been possible to determine what exactly causes them, however they can be related to health and disease issues which can increases your risk:

  • Stress and anxiety

During times of stress and anxiety, the body’s immune system tend to be weaker due to the pressures placed on it.  This weakening of the bodies natural defence system is considered to be a link to the cause of ulceration in the mouth.

By no means scientific evidence, but I personally have suffered with these canker sores and they tend to be at times when although I am generally fit and well, I know I am under pressure or a little more stressed than I am usually.

  • Injury

Poor fitting dentures or some sort of trauma to the mouth, for example by a toothbrush, or dental appliances such as braces have been linked to ulcers.

  • Hormone changes

Particularly within women, the changing hormone balance during the monthly menstrual cycle and the menopause can increase the susceptibility to ulcers.

  • Stopping smoking

When many are warning of the risks of smoking, the act of stopping, can cause the ulcers.

I am not here to discuss the merits of smoking, but the potential for an ulcer is a weak reason to justify continuing to smoke, considering the other health implications.

  • Lack of iron

Missing vitamins such as B12 and folic acid may be a factor.

Ensuring you are eating a healthy and balanced diet including dairy, fish and meat can be helpful as these products contain vitamin B12.

  • Food/diet

Sensitivities to certain foods such as wheat have been linked with ulcers.  For some lactose, and dairy proteins, or even acidic foods such as tomatoes, could all be to blame.

Cutting these out from your diet could be worth considering for a period of time to see if improvements are made to the regularity of ulcers.

  • Genetics

Yes the DNA, your background and genetic makeup can have some part to play.

If you have parents or other closely related family members who suffer, the likelihood is great you will too.

  • Medications

Side effects are present with many medications as they interfere and adapt the chemical balances within the human body.

Whilst some medications may cause ulceration, canker sores/apthous ulcers are just 1 type of ulcer and it might be the medication causes a different type of ulcer.

If it is possible in your case that medication is the cause, it is best to speak to your doctor or dentist for assessment and discussion of the situation.

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)

Found within many toothpaste, Sodium Laurel Sulphate is the additive that makes the toothpaste foam as well as helping the paste to dissolve plaque.  It is however for some people been the trigger for an ulcer.  SLS free toothpastes do exist.

  • Disease

All disease affects your immune system, which could cause aphthous ulcers.

Crohn’s, coeliac, Behcet’s disease as well as HIV/AIDS have been linked to ulceration.  However, if you are you are suffering from one of these conditions, they are unlikely to be aphthous ulcers.

Treatments for aphthous mouth ulcers

There is no 1 magic cure for these canker sores that science and medicine knows of today.   Maybe in time that will change, I hope so, but for now it is about managing the ulcer with treatments rather than treating to cure.

These management treatments can help ease pain and speed up the healing process.

A lot of people who suffer with canker sores find that avoiding certain types of food and drinks, particularly those with lots of acid, spice or salt content can help as these tend otherwise just to make the pain sensation feel worse as these ingredients aggravate the ulcer.

A top tip is to make use of a straw, to help deliver the liquid, particularity cool drinks to the back of the mouth, avoiding the zone of the mouth with the ulcer.

An absolute must for most is the use of a very soft bristled toothbrush.  The more flexible bristles will sweep over the delicate area of the mouth with less likelihood of causing significant discomfort.  Oral-B and Sonicare make soft bristled heads for their electric toothbrushes, whilst Curaprox set the standard in my opinion with their ultra soft manual toothbrush, which you can view here on Amazon.

If you believe medication is likely the cause, speak to your doctor to consider changing the medication and approach.

The thought of swishing a mouthful of warm salt water around the mouth for a minute, might not be your idea of easing the pain, but a saline mouthwash,  like this can be remarkably soothing and it is fine to do it as often as you like.  Just be sure that you don’t swallow it.

There are too a number of home remedies available, I outline some of these later in this post, should you be keen to try these.

Do’s and Don’t’s

The image below was created by the National Health Service in the UK, rather than for the USA, but the information applies and makes for a fantastic quick reference point.

I would not be surprised if after reading these suggestions you are thinking, is there something more that can be done?  Maybe something I can buy and apply to help?

This is where some of the over-the-counter products come to the rescue.

Before committing to buying products, it can be worthwhile speaking to the pharmacist as a first step.

Incredibly skilled individuals, they have a lot of knowledge in different medical conditions and what products can work best.  They can generally advise something specifically suited to your needs.  Unlike a dentist or a doctor, it does not normally cost to see or speak to them and you can often see them quicker in store as there is not normally the need to book an appointment.

Some of the possible suggestions they will make will include the following products.

Mouthwashes

A liquid solution or rinse for the mouth, these products can help provide a reduction in pain and sensitivity and reduce the time required to heal.

Providing fast and effective pain relief, although you cannot see it, the GUM Rincinol solution creates a thin barrier over the ulcer which shields it from those things in the mouth that could otherwise irritate the nerve endings that make up the sore.  Where good and drink or even dentures may have made the sore more painful, the rinse creates that barrier for added protection.

Unlike some products that contain benzocaine which numbs the whole mouth or alcohol that stings on application, this rinse is gentle and provides almost instant relief thanks to the aloe vera based formulation.

An alcohol free solution, Colgate Peroxyl is specially formulated to help promote the healing of sores and irritations that exist within the mouth.

From split and bleeding gums to the canker sores this treats a number or irritations.

An active ingredient called Hydrogen Peroxide within the solution makes contact with peroxidases and catalases (essentially bad bacteria enzymes) present in tissues (gums) and saliva, which causes the rapid release of oxygen.

The reaction that takes place create a mechanical cleansing which flushes out mouth debris, and helps in facilitate healing and alleviates discomfort caused by minor mouth and gum irritations, such as aphthous ulcers.

Your mouth is very sensitive when you have an ulcer, so whilst you may be able to withstand some discomfort, it would be nice if those products that are supposed to help treat the ulcer did not feel like they were in fact irritating them.

Whit the use of the American Dental Association accepted CloSYS original and unflavoured mouthwash you can be assured of pain free use.

The alcohol free solution means you wont get that burning sensation instead you get a gentle and effective rinse that kills 99.9% of germs.

Free of sulfate, triclosan and gluten free too, CloSYS will neturalise the mouth and has no tooth staining effects either.

This 7 ounce bottle of Gengigel mouthrinse is a naturally activated product that has been patented and is suitable for a wide variety of common oral conditions that are known for soreness and inflamation including gum disease and canker sores.

Helping to stop any small bleeding Gengigel will help ease soreness and assist with the general healing of tissue in the mouth.

Dr Sarah Brewer  advises that alcohol-free mouthwashes are less dehydrating and kinder to the mouth than those containing alcohol.

CloSYS might be a great option, but it is a bit more expensive, so Colgate’s Total Advance (view on Amazon) is a more cost effective option.

Gels

Applied directly to the ulcer, gels can form a barrier over sore, easing pain and protect it from added sensitivity.

Whilst it is capable of aiding with a range of irritations in the mouth, Orajel is commonly used for canker sores.

The formula has been designed to offer long lasting relief whilst offering at least some temporary pain reduction through a numbing of the surface of the sore.

Choline salicylate, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), similar to asprin, is the core ingredient in Bonjela to offer the relief desired of any gel applied to a canker sore.

Relief can be within as little as 3 minutes thanks for the pain relief it offers.

Just 15g in a tube may not seem all that much, but it is more than enough to see you through the life of most minor ulcers.

Providing the same effect as the mouthwash, but in a gel format, this tube of Gengigel has a patented formula.  A naturally actived product, suitable for most common oral conditions associated with soreness and inflammation. Gengigel stops any minor bleeding, soothes soreness and sharp pain of ulcers and promotes healing, ideal for ulcers.

A herbal based product, it contains licorice, one of the home remedies suggested below.

After blotting dry the canker sore a dab of canker sores be gone can help heal the sensitive tissue quickly, with many users seeing the sore disappear in days rather than weeks.

For best effect it should be used multiple times a day.

  • CVS Health Immediate Mouth Sore Relief Maximum Strength (view on CVS)

The CVS own brand equivalent to Orajel, whilst it is not the exact same product it delivers similar soothing results.

20% of the formula is Benzocaine  an ingredient that anaesthetic to numb the pain associated with the canker sore.

Anbesol is another gel containing the anesthetic lidocaine, which helps relieve pain. Anbesol also contains antiseptic which will protect against infection.

Home Remedies

Given that we know there are no products that cure ulcers or are guaranteed to get rid of them, it is reasonable to think that if all they are doing is soothing and potentially speeding up recovery, might there be a cheaper and more natural alternative?!

At home remedies do exist.  There are many suggestions that have been made by people all over the work.

Below are a number of the more popularly recommended remedies for canker sores that can be done at home, using products you will likely have in the kitchen cupboards.

  • Baking Soda

Baking soda can help neutralize any acidity in the mouth, because it is an alkaline.  When an alkaline reacts with an acid the balance is changed, quite often for the better, bringing the mouth to a more neutral level.

Take a teaspoon of baking soda and mix it into half a cup of warm water.  Once mixed, take a mouthful and rinse it around the mouth.  Do not swallow it, spit it out after 10 seconds or so.

All being well, the formula chelp  kill the bacteria and assist with the healing process.

  • Aloe Vera

We have all heard of this stuff right?  It is like the magical all wonderful natural plant!

It is used and suggested in many situations and has soothing effects for pain relief.

Take a leaf from the aloe plant and squeeze the thick gel that comes out of it onto a spoon.

Using a cotton swab (q-tip), dry the canker sore.

Use the spoon to apply the gel directly onto the sore(s)

Repeat as and when you feel you need the soothing sensation.

  • Milk of Magnesia

No need to swallow, take a sip and rinse it around the mouth for 30 seconds to a minute before spitting it out.

The antacid properties of this solution work like the baking soda remedy, which helps to neutralize the acidity and ease the canker sores.

Some will choose to dab the liquid directly onto the ulcer 3 or 4 times a day using the likes of a cotton swap, rather than rinsing it around the mouth.

  • Tea Bags

Perhaps not the first remedy you might think of, but take a cool, used tea bag and place it on the ulcer for up to 5 minutes.

Tea is an alkaline, so it will neutralize acids that irritate the sore; tea also contains compounds that may help relieve pain.

  • Salt Water

You have probably heard of this one before.

Take a teaspoon of salt, a cup of warm water and mix the 2 together.

Once the salt has dissolved, take a mouthful and keep in the the mouth for at least 30 seconds, longer if you can.

Swish the salt solution around if you can.

As the salt makes contact with the sore, it will dry out the tissues and in theory help with the healing process.

Once 30-60 seconds has passed, spit out the solution.

You can repeat this multiple times a day if you find it helps.

  • Licorice

Working to relieve pain, the use of licorice root can form a protective coating over the ulcer that will resist irritation.

Soak a tablespoon of crushed licorice root into two cups of water for a couple of ours.

Use is as a mouth rinse, several times a day.

  • Honey

The sweet tasting honey sounds like one of the nicest home remedy solutions.

It is in theory going to keep the mouth hydrated and encourage the growth of the tissue that will heal the sore.

You can repeat this several times a day.  Be aware that honey contains sugars that can cause tooth decay.

  • Coconut oil

Dab a little coconut oil onto the ulcer several times a day using a swab.

The coconut has oil has antimicrobial components. It is also an anti-inflammatory compound and an analgesic. These properties will reduce the swelling and pain you experience because of the mouth ulcer.

  • Ice cues

The intense cold will soothe the inflammation and the pain and perhaps distract you by the thought of that is cold rather than, it hurts.

Try and leave it on the spot for as long as possible.

  • Rest and relaxation

Who can argue with this?!  We all like to relax at times.

Because stress and general health can play a part, trying to relax, getting a good nights sleep and allowing your body to naturally recharge can be fantastic for your physical and mental state.

Constantly pushing your body, working hard and sleeping for just a few hours will take its toll on the body.

If you have hobbies or habits that you know can help reduce any stress and anxiety to might have, then take some time to do that to help your body wind down and recuperate.

Preventing an ulcer

Some people may never get them, some may get them so frequently, that they feel like they have them all the time.

There is nothing that I or even a medical professional can tell you that will guarantee you never get one.

But, that said, there are certain things you can do to at least contribute to and ultimately reduce the likelihood of getting a canker sore.

Preventative steps you can take are to:

  • Brush your teeth and gums properly and regularly with a soft bristled toothbrush
  • Floss daily
  • Avoid acidic foods
  • Avoid spicy food
  • Avoid biting the inside of the mouth
  • Seek dental assistance if you have poor fitting dentures, braces, rough fillings of teeth that are cutting or rubbing the cheeks and gums.
  • Keep up good general health with balanced diet, exercise and sleep.

Seeing a doctor/dentist

If you get an aphthous mouth ulcer like the ones discussed here, you will not normally need to see a doctor or dentist.

However, there are different types of ulcers, some much more serious and will require a medical professional to take a look and potentially intervene.

You should consider speaking to or seeing a doctor in the following circumstances.

  • The pain increases.
  • The ulcer appears infected.
  • You feel unwell.
  • The ulcer doesn’t clear up or being to show signs of improvement within a couple of weeks.
  • The ulcers look unusual or larger than normal.
  • You are no longer eating because of the ulcer.
  • The ulcer bleeds.
  • You have a high temperature or feel more tired than usual.

Subject to their assessment, they may suggest other treatments that are more helpful but may need to be prescribed.

Examples include anything from pain killing tablets to steroid sprays and even antibiotics.

Last updated: 2020-01-22 at 07:20 // Source: Amazon Associates

Jon Love

About Jon Love

Jon is a leading voice on electric toothbrushes and has been quoted by mainstream media publications for his opinions and expertise.

Having handled & tested hundreds of products there really is very little he does not know about them.

Passionate about business and helping others, Jon has been involved in various online enterprises since the early 2000s.

After spending 12 years in consumer technology, it was in 2014 that he focused his attention on dental health, having experienced first-hand the challenge of choosing a new toothbrush.

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