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Canker sores

Canker sores are painful ulcers that occur on the mucous membrane surface of the mouth, cheek, or tongue. They can occur singly or in groups, and occur more in women than in men.

Symptoms of canker sores range from mild to severe:

  • Mild symptoms are usually associated with canker sores that are less than one centimeter in diameter, last ten days to two weeks and heal without scarring.
  • Severe symptoms are usually associated with canker sores that are more than one centimeter in diameter, last several weeks to several months, and leave scarring.
In both types of canker sores, recurring attacks are common, with several to many ulcers appearing each time. The ulcers have whitish centers surrounded by redness.

What To Consider

Bowel flora imbalances due to parasites, poor digestion, food sensitivities, chronic constipation or diarrhea, and/or Crohn's disease can all cause or exacerbate canker sores. Many naturopathic physicians believe that the basic cause of canker sores is most likely an allergy to wheat and/or other grains. If canker sores are persistent, each of these factors need to be ruled out and/or addressed before long-term healing can be achieved.

Canker sores can also be due to stress, extreme heat, physical exertion, extreme fatigue, fever, localized trauma such as after dental work, and nutrient deficiencies such as lysine, iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid. They can also be contagious if they result from an infectious agent.

Self-Care Tips

Eat a diet that varies grains and add a variety of beans, seeds, and nuts. Mono-wheat diets contribute to canker sores, and therefore should be avoided. Also avoid foods and substances that may irritate the ulcers such as coffee, alcohol, refined sugar, citrus fruits, spicy foods, mouthwashes, and smoking. In cases of severe canker sores, eliminate or eat sparingly of acid-forming foods such as animal products, grains, beans, and seeds, and increase your intake of alkaline-producing foods, especially vegetables and fruits.

Canker sores that are due to food sensitivities or allergies are more typically caused by eating milk, cheese, wheat, tomato, vinegar, lemon, pineapple, and/or mustard. It is important to realize that any food or food substance can potentially cause food sensitivities, which must be ruled out in order to achieve long-term healing.

Nutritional Supplementation
The following nutrients have all been shown to help prevent and reverse canker sores: vitamin C, lysine (an amino acid - take 4 grams for the first four days, then 500 mg three times daily, on an empty stomach and apart from meals), vitamin B complex (two to three times daily with meals, along with folic acid and vitamin B12), and zinc gluconate lozenges. Acidophilus, to ensure a proper supply of healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, and pantothenic acid can also be helpful

Flower Essences
Rescue Remedy can help alleviate stress that can contribute to canker sores.

To relieve symptoms, use a mouthwash made with sage and chamomile. Combine equal amounts as an infusion and gargle as often as needed. A combination of equal parts of tinctures of echinacea and cleavers can also be taken internally at a dose of 1/2 teaspoonful three times a day.

Juice Therapy
Drinking juice made from carrots, celery, and cantaloupe may help relieve symptoms and speed healing.

Topical Treatment
Using a cotton swab, dab each sore with an 8% solution of zinc chloride (available from your pharmacist). As an alternative, you can also use a paste made of echinacea tincture and myrrh gum.


If your symptoms persist despite the above measures, seek the help of a qualified health professional.

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