Canker Sore Remedies

By Carol J. Mulvihill, RN,C, Editor of Connections Quarterly, and Mary Lou Willoughby, RN, MS, College Health Nurse, Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa, CA

On the Mayo Clinic's Health Oasis web site, I recently came across an interesting article titled Cold Sores and Fever Blisters: Big Nuisances in Little Packages. This article is particularly useful in clarifying that canker sores and cold sores are two very different entities sharing the common characteristics of making eating and drinking and even kissing painful and usually causing embarrassment.

According to Dr. Roy S. Rogers III, a dermatologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., canker sores are small shallow ulcers which occur inside the mouth, on the tongue, inside the cheek or anywhere on the oral mucosa. As many as 20% of all Americans encounter this malady in their lifetime. The cause is elusive, and it is thought that stress or injury to the oral mucosa may be related factors. Whatever the cause, canker sores are not viral and are not contagious. Most sources seem to agree that canker sores are often precipitated by eating foods which are spicy and acidic, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and particularly Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.

Robert Goepp, D.D.S., Ph.D., Professor at University of Chicago Medical Center says in that medicating a canker sore is no simple task, because "Nothing sticks well to the skin in your mouth, and it's the most bacteria-laden place in the body. Remedies have a double-barrelled aim: to kill the organisms that infect the sore (causing most of the pain and the red inflammation that surrounds the yellowish core) and to protect the sore." --The Doctors' Book of Home Remedies, Rodale Press, 1990, page 111.

Some over-the-counter remedies listed in the Doctors Book of Home Remedies include the following:

The notable similarity of most of the home remedies listed is that they seem to attempt to change the "Ph" in the mouth, to one that is less supportive of the sore or the bacteria in the mouth which aggravate it. Such rationale seems to give these approaches a logical if not somewhat scientific basis.

One of our Connections Quarterly readers shares this interesting theory and her experience in the treatment of canker sores. Mary Lou Willoughby, RN, MS, College Health Nurse, Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa, CA wrote the following:

My elderly aunt who is an LVN reminded me of a very effective treatment for bedsores. I know -- not common among the college aged students, but in theory and in practical application, as effective for canker sores. She used plain ol' Milk of Magnesia. The antacid effect neutralized the acidic environment and healing time was reduced considerably.

I carry the theory a step further with my students. We live in the Southwest and thrive on Mexican food. I therefore recommend an antacid tablet before eating and after eating to relieve the hyperacidity. A liquid antiacid used as an oral rinse is amazingly effective in quelling canker sores.

The neutralization of the acidic environment works amazingly well in our PIZZA NIGHTS, too, much to our delight. The students are very appreciative.

Having been a college health nurse for fifteen years now, I totally agree that our professional roles are indeed changing. In the early days it was more band-aid therapy and first-aid. Spiraling health costs are demanding self-care education more and more.

Our students are multi-cultural. I am constantly learning their home care remedies and am teaching them western ways. Holistic approaches to current trends are becoming the ways of the future. And here in Southern California, we are HANGING TEN!

Editor's Note:
One evening at about 10:30 pm, my husband Michael complained about a nagging canker sore in his mouth which had persisted for five days. It occurred after eating an orange. I remembered reading about the antacid remedy in Mary Lou's letter and suggested he try the Tums on the bathroom shelf. After just two or three treatments of chewing the Tums, making a paste and holding the antacid in his mouth for several minutes, the canker sore healed! Thanks for the tip, Mary Lou!

From Our Readers:

Sept. 12, 2002

Ms. Mulvihill,

Inspired by the article you wrote with Mary Lou Willoughby about canker sores, let me share with you an effective cure, or at least a very powerful suppressant of such sores, so that you can make it available to your nurse colleagues, dentists and the public.

I used to suffer canker sore outbreaks at least once a month until one day, by mere accident, I rinsed my mouth with baking soda water solution. (I had run out of mouthwash that day.) The sore healed in hours. The next time I got a sore, I made a paste of baking soda with water and applied it to the sore. It healed in less than an hour.

Since the time I started using baking soda toothpaste I haven't developed a single sore (for about 15 years) except when I stop using baking soda toothpaste, like when, for example, traveling and not taking my toothpaste with me. I have also "experimented" by purposely stopping using the baking soda toothpaste, and the sores flare up.

Definitely baking soda is a suppressant of canker sores!

Make this home treatment available to others please.

Rene Guerra
Sunnyvale, CA

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