12 Ways to heal a canker sore

If you've ever had a canker sore, surely you've been amazed by how something so small can cause a sting so big. No one knows for sure why some people get canker sores and others don't. For most people, a hot pizza burn heals in 2 to 3 days with little or no pain, but for others it can lead to a lesion that won't heal for 2 weeks. Some experts think canker sores result from a body chemistry imbalance that can result after an illness, fever, or other body stress, leading to reduced immunity. Here are 12 ways to ease the pain:

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1) Rinse it away. There are rinses that help normalize the pH in the mouth to fight canker sores, says Janet Maccaro, Ph.D., C.N.C. She suggests rinsing with salt water, echinacea tea, or aloe vera juice.

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2) Read the labels. Look for over-the-counter canker sore medications that contain benzocaine, menthol, camphor, eucalyptol, or alcohol in a liquid or gel. They often sting at first, and most need repeated application because they don't stick, but they're effective

3) Apply a paste coating. Some over-the-counter pastes form a protective "bandage" over the sore. To get pastes like Orabase to work, dry the sore with one end of a cotton swab, then immediately dab on the paste with the other end. It works only on beginning sores.

4) Have some tea. Several experts, among them dermatologist Jerome Z. Litt, M.D., recommend applying a wet, black tea bag to the ulcer. Black tea contains tannin, an astringent that "may pleasantly surprise you" with its pain-relieving ability, he says. There are over-the-counter medications available that contain tannin, such as Tanac.

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5) Put a lid on it. "There's a product out there called a 'canker cover' that offers immediate relief for canker sores," says Chris Kammer, D.D.S. The adhesive, dissolvable patch covers the sore and releases a numbing and healing gel. "One patch stays on securely for 12 hours and fully treats most canker sores in 24 hours," he says.

6) Drown it in apple cider vinegar. Mix a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in 6 to 8 ounces of warm water, and add a heaping teaspoon of a calcium-magnesium powder, says Georgianna Donadio, Ph.D. "Fill the rest of the glass with cool water and sip it--your canker sores will soon be gone," she says.

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7) Soothe it with aloe. The ubiquitous "first-aid" plant aloe offers relief for canker sores, too. "Squeeze a bit of gel from an aloe vera leaf," says Dr. Kammer. "Dry the sore with a cotton swab, then dab on the gel, repeating as often as necessary," he says.

8) Avoid food irritants. Coffee, spices, citrus fruits, nuts high in the amino acid arginine (especially walnuts), chocolate, and strawberries irritate canker sores and can even cause them in some people.

9 ) Neutralize it. The pain of a canker sore is usually caused by acids and digestive enzymes eating away at it. To neutralize these acids and speed healing, munch a chewable Pepto-Bismol, Tums, or Rolaids tablet, or apply it directly to the sore and allow it to dissolve, says Dr. Kammer.

10) Leave it to MOM. As an alternative to an antacid, you can use a small amount of milk of magnesia as a makeshift mouth rinse. "Or apply it to the canker sore three or four times a day," Dr. Kammer says.

11) Brush carefully. It is important to keep your mouth and teeth clean while a canker sore heals, but you must be cautious. You don't want to jab a healing sore with a toothbrush or toothpick and reinjure yourself. Also, read toothpaste labels if you're someone who is prone to canker sores. Sodium lauryl sulfate, used as a detergent in some toothpaste, may trigger canker sores in some people. Other toothpastes contain triclosan, an anti microbial ingredient that may help canker sores heal.

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12) Coat it with a balm. Lemon balm, that is. Although lemon juice may be the last thing you want to dab onto a painful canker sore, lemon balm can be soothing. Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., recommends applying lemon balm cream as needed to ease canker sore pain.

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