What Causes Canker Sores And How To Treat Them?

Have you ever experienced the frustrating pain and discomfort of a canker sore? These small, painful ulcers that form inside your mouth can make simple tasks like eating or talking unbearable. But what exactly causes these pesky sores to develop? And more importantly, how can you effectively treat them? In this article, we will explore the common causes of canker sores and provide you with practical tips and remedies to alleviate their symptoms and promote healing. So, if you’re tired of suffering from these unwelcome mouth sores, keep reading to find out how you can finally find relief.

Causes of Canker Sores

Canker sores, also known as aphthous ulcers, are small, painful sores that form inside the mouth. While the exact cause of canker sores is still unclear, there are several factors that are believed to contribute to their development.


It is believed that genetics plays a role in the development of canker sores. If you have a family history of canker sores, you may be more prone to developing them yourself. Certain genetic factors may make some individuals more susceptible to these irritating mouth ulcers.

Minor Mouth Injury

Minor injuries to the mouth, such as accidental biting, toothbrush abrasions, or dental work, can trigger the formation of canker sores. When the delicate tissue inside the mouth is damaged, it becomes more susceptible to the development of these painful ulcers.

Acidic Foods

Consuming acidic foods and beverages, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and soda, can trigger canker sores in some individuals. The acidic nature of these foods can irritate the mouth and lead to the development of these painful sores.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Nutritional deficiencies, particularly in vitamins B12, zinc, folic acid, and iron, have been linked to the development of canker sores. Proper nutrition is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system and preventing the occurrence of canker sores.

Hormonal Changes

Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during menstruation, can increase the likelihood of developing canker sores in some individuals. Fluctuating hormone levels can affect the immune system and make the mouth more vulnerable to the formation of these ulcers.

Medical Conditions Related to Canker Sores

While canker sores are often harmless and resolve on their own, they can sometimes be associated with underlying medical conditions. If you experience frequent or severe canker sores, it is important to consider the possibility of an underlying medical condition.

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that can cause inflammation throughout the digestive tract. It has been associated with an increased risk of developing canker sores. If you have Crohn’s disease and are experiencing canker sores, it is important to work closely with your healthcare provider to manage both conditions effectively.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the consumption of gluten triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine. Canker sores are a common symptom of celiac disease, along with other gastrointestinal symptoms. If you suspect you have celiac disease, it is essential to get tested and follow a strict gluten-free diet.

Behcet’s Disease

Behcet’s disease is a rare chronic condition that causes inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body. Canker sores are a common symptom of this condition, along with other symptoms such as genital sores, eye inflammation, and skin lesions. Treatment options for Behcet’s disease typically involve managing the symptoms and may include medications to reduce inflammation.


Individuals with HIV/AIDS are more prone to developing canker sores due to the weakened immune system associated with the condition. If you have HIV/AIDS and are experiencing canker sores, it is important to work closely with your healthcare provider to manage both your overall health and the symptoms of the canker sores.


Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects multiple organs and systems in the body. Canker sores are a common symptom of lupus, along with other symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, and rashes. Treatment for lupus typically involves the use of medications to manage symptoms and prevent flare-ups.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, can be associated with the development of canker sores. The chronic inflammation in the digestive tract seen in IBD can contribute to the formation of canker sores. Managing IBD with medication and lifestyle changes is crucial for both overall health and managing canker sore symptoms.

Triggers for Canker Sores

In addition to the potential underlying causes and medical conditions, there are certain triggers that can provoke the development of canker sores in susceptible individuals. Identifying and avoiding these triggers can help reduce the frequency and severity of canker sores.


Stress is a common trigger for canker sores. When we experience high levels of stress, our immune system may become compromised, making us more susceptible to developing canker sores. Practicing stress management techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and regular exercise can help reduce the occurrence of canker sores.


Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle can contribute to the development of canker sores in some women. Fluctuating hormone levels can weaken the immune system, making the mouth more prone to canker sores. Paying attention to the menstrual cycle and taking appropriate measures to manage canker sores during this time can be helpful.

Food Sensitivities

Individuals with certain food sensitivities or allergies may find that consuming specific foods triggers the development of canker sores. Common culprits include gluten, dairy products, and spicy or acidic foods. Identifying and avoiding these trigger foods can help reduce the occurrence of canker sores.

Dental Procedures

Dental procedures, such as braces, may cause minor injuries to the mouth, making it more susceptible to canker sores. It is important to maintain good oral hygiene and practice gentle oral care during and after dental procedures to minimize the risk of developing canker sores.

Symptoms of Canker Sores

Recognizing the symptoms of canker sores is essential for timely intervention and appropriate treatment. While the symptoms may vary from person to person, there are some common signs to look out for.

Painful Sores

Canker sores are characterized by painful, round or oval-shaped ulcers that may be white or yellowish in color. They typically develop inside the mouth, on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, or the soft palate. The intensity of pain can vary depending on the size and location of the sore.

Sensitivity to Spicy or Acidic Foods

Canker sores can cause increased sensitivity to spicy or acidic foods. Eating or drinking such items can lead to a burning or stinging sensation in and around the sores, making it uncomfortable to consume certain foods.

Tingling or Burning Sensation

Before a canker sore fully develops, you may experience a tingling or burning sensation in the area where the sore will appear. This can serve as an early warning sign for the impending ulcer, allowing you to take preventive measures.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

In some cases, canker sores may cause swelling of the nearby lymph nodes. The lymph nodes may feel tender or painful to touch. Swollen lymph nodes are a sign that your body is actively fighting the infection or inflammation caused by the canker sore.


In rare cases, large or severe canker sores can cause fever. If you experience a fever along with canker sores, it is important to seek medical attention, as it may indicate a more serious infection or underlying health issue.

Self-Care Measures for Canker Sores

While canker sores usually heal on their own within one to two weeks, there are self-care measures you can take to alleviate the discomfort and promote healing.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relief

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with canker sores. Follow the instructions on the packaging and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.

Saltwater Rinse

Gargling with a warm saltwater solution can help cleanse the mouth, reduce inflammation, and promote faster healing of canker sores. Mix one teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water and rinse your mouth several times a day, especially after meals.

Avoiding Irritating Foods

To speed up the healing process, it is best to avoid spicy, acidic, or crunchy foods that can aggravate the canker sores. Stick to a soft diet with foods that are easy to chew and swallow.

Using a Soft-Bristled Toothbrush

To prevent further irritation, switch to a soft-bristled toothbrush and be gentle while brushing your teeth. Avoid brushing directly over the canker sores to minimize discomfort and prevent the sores from worsening.

Topical Medications

There are various over-the-counter topical ointments, gels, and patches available that can provide relief from canker sore pain and promote healing. These products usually contain ingredients such as benzocaine or hydrogen peroxide, which help numb the area and reduce inflammation.

Home Remedies for Canker Sores

If you prefer natural remedies, there are several home remedies that may help alleviate the discomfort of canker sores and promote healing.

Baking Soda Rinse

A baking soda rinse can help neutralize the acidity in the mouth and relieve pain caused by canker sores. Dissolve one teaspoon of baking soda in half a cup of warm water and swish the mixture in your mouth for 30 seconds before spitting it out.


Honey has long been used for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Applying a small amount of honey directly onto the canker sore can help soothe the pain and promote healing.

Aloe Vera Gel

Aloe vera gel is known for its soothing properties and ability to promote healing. Applying a small amount of pure aloe vera gel onto the canker sore can provide relief from pain and help speed up the healing process.

Milk of Magnesia

Milk of magnesia, typically used as an antacid, can also be applied topically to canker sores. It helps neutralize the acidity in the mouth and provides a protective coating over the sore, reducing pain and promoting healing.

Sage Mouthwash

Sage mouthwash made from sage leaves infused in warm water can be used as a natural remedy for canker sores. Gargling with sage mouthwash can help reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and promote healing.

Medical Treatments for Canker Sores

If home remedies and self-care measures do not provide adequate relief, your healthcare provider may recommend medical treatments to manage canker sores.

Topical Corticosteroids

Topical corticosteroids, such as creams, gels, or mouth rinses, can be prescribed to reduce inflammation and relieve pain associated with canker sores. These medications are typically applied directly to the sores and may help speed up the healing process.

Oral Medications

In some cases, oral medications such as corticosteroids, antibiotics, or immunomodulators may be prescribed to manage severe or recurrent canker sores. These medications work by reducing inflammation and suppressing the immune system response.


Cauterization is a procedure in which a healthcare professional uses a special tool to apply heat or a chemical agent to the canker sore. This treatment helps reduce pain and promote healing, but it may cause mild discomfort during the procedure.

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy is a non-invasive treatment option that uses focused laser beams to promote healing of canker sores. The laser energy helps reduce pain, inflammation, and the duration of the sores.

Prevention Tips for Canker Sores

While it may not be possible to completely prevent canker sores, there are steps you can take to reduce their frequency and severity.

Maintaining Oral Hygiene

Good oral hygiene is essential for overall oral health, including the prevention of canker sores. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss regularly, and use an antimicrobial mouthwash to reduce the risk of infection and inflammation.

Eating a Balanced Diet

A healthy and balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals is important for maintaining a strong immune system. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains in your diet to ensure you are getting the necessary nutrients to support oral health.

Stress Management

Managing stress is crucial for reducing the risk of developing canker sores. Practice stress-reducing techniques such as exercise, meditation, deep breathing, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Avoiding Irritating Dental Products

Some toothpastes and mouthwashes contain harsh ingredients that may irritate the mouth and trigger canker sores. Avoid using products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and try switching to gentler alternatives.

Regular Dental Check-ups

Regular dental check-ups allow your dentist to monitor your oral health and identify any potential issues, including canker sores. Your dentist can provide guidance on preventive measures and recommend appropriate treatments if necessary.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While most canker sores heal within one to two weeks without medical intervention, there are situations when it is important to seek medical attention.

Persistent or Severe Pain

If the pain from the canker sores becomes unbearable or persists for an extended period, despite self-care measures, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional. They can assess the severity of the sores and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Large Sores

If the canker sores are unusually large or appear to be getting bigger, it is best to seek medical advice. Large sores may not heal on their own and may require additional treatment to promote healing.

Difficulty Eating or Drinking

If the canker sores make it difficult to eat, drink, or speak, medical attention is necessary. These symptoms may indicate a severe case of canker sores or an underlying health condition that requires treatment.

Frequent Recurrences

If canker sores frequently reoccur or if you have more than three to four new sores a year, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional. Frequent recurrences may be a sign of an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed.

Symptoms Lasting Over Two Weeks

If the symptoms of canker sores persist for more than two weeks, it is important to seek medical attention. Prolonged symptoms may indicate an infection, a more severe oral condition, or an underlying health issue that requires treatment.

Complications of Canker Sores

While canker sores are generally harmless and resolve on their own, they can sometimes lead to complications, particularly if left untreated.

Secondary Infections

If canker sores become infected, they may lead to secondary infections that can cause more serious complications. Signs of infection may include increased pain, redness, warmth, or pus around the sores. Prompt medical attention is necessary to prevent further complications.


In rare cases, severe canker sores or recurrent sores may leave behind scars. Scarring may affect the appearance and function of the affected area, and it may require additional medical treatment or cosmetic procedures to improve.

Persistent Pain

While canker sore pain typically resolves within one to two weeks, some individuals may experience persistent or chronic pain. If the pain persists or worsens over time, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to identify and address the underlying cause.

Difficulty Speaking or Swallowing

Large or severe canker sores can make it challenging to speak or swallow, especially if they occur in the throat or on the tongue. If you experience difficulty with these basic functions, it is important to seek medical attention for proper evaluation and treatment.

In conclusion, understanding the causes, triggers, symptoms, and treatments of canker sores is essential for managing and preventing these bothersome mouth ulcers. While most canker sores heal on their own with self-care measures, it is important to seek medical attention if the symptoms persist, worsen, or if you experience any concerning complications. By following preventive tips and maintaining good oral hygiene, you can reduce the frequency and severity of canker sores and promote overall oral health and well-being.