Canker sores (aphthous stomatitis) are small ulcerations that occur on mucous membranes in the mouth. They tend to be painful and heal spontaneously after 7-10 days (larger ones can take up to 30 days to heal).
Why do I get canker sores?
There are many causes of canker sores – most people who get them have no idea why. There is a genetic component with approximately one third of people who get canker sores having a family history of the disorder. Canker sores are not viral and are not the same as cold sores (which are a manifestation of the herpes virus).
Canker sores are likely a result of poor regulation of the immune system, especially the cell-mediated immune system. They typically occur after a triggering event such as:
- Minor tissue friction or rubbing (such as wearing a mouth guard, poor fitting dentures, braces, eating nuts, and broken teeth)
- Hot food or drink causing minor burns to the mouth
- Spicy or acidic foods (including chocolate, tomatoes,
- Emotional stress
- During menstruation, pregnancy and menopause due to hormone changes
Additionally, vitamin deficiencies (vitamin B12, folic acid, and iron), vegetarian diet, food allergies, gluten consumption, low insulin levels, helicobacter pylori infection, use of birth control pills, and use of toothpaste with chemical additives (especially sodium lauryl sulfate) can all lead to canker sore eruptions. Having one of these underlying conditions, coupled with a triggering event can lead to canker sores in susceptible people.
How are canker sores treated?
Single canker sores are often not treated. However, if they are recurrent, extremely painful, interfere with eating, drinking or talking, or do not heal after 14 days they should be treated and underlying imbalances addressed to prevent recurrence.
Naturopathic treatment options for canker sores
Address the underlying cause
Finding the underlying imbalance that is allowing canker sores to develop is of paramount importance in the treatment of this condition. Laboratory testing of vitamin and mineral status, food allergy testing, and a comprehensive lifestyle intake may uncover hidden causes of canker sores.
Support and balance the immune system
Since canker sores develop as a result of an imbalanced cellular immune system, botanicals and nutrients to tonify and balance the immune system are warranted in most cases. Astragalus, propolis, elder flower, holy basil, andrographis, zinc, selenium, omega 3 fatty acids, and others may be used to support the proper function of the immune system.
Heal the mucous membranes
Another treatment that is useful for the treatment of painful canker sores is aloe vera juice. Aloe has multiple properties that make it beneficial for the treatment of canker sores:
- Increases secretion of mucous in the mucous membranes, relieving the soreness of canker sores
- Inhibits synthesis of thromboxane A2, increasing microcirculation in canker sores and speeding their healing
- Antioxidant effects, supporting healthy tissue regeneration
- Antibacterial properties, preventing bacterial infection of the canker sores
For canker sores use an aloe vera latex juice and swish it around the mouth for 30 seconds three times per day. You can then swallow or spit out the aloe vera juice. Aloe vera can cause laxative effects, so if you experience this then ensure you do not swallow the aloe vera juice.
For best results with canker sores a visit with a Naturopathic Doctor is in order. They will develop a comprehensive protocol specifically for you and help you identify and correct the underlying imbalances that are causing your canker sores.
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Aloe vera monograph. Accessed online July 3, 2012.
Bope E, Kellerman R. Conn’s Current Therapy 2012, 1st Ed. Chapter 4 – Diseases of the skin; diseases of the mouth. 2012.
Chattopadhyay A. Recurrent Aphthous Stomatitis. Otolaryngol Clin N Am 44 (2011) 79–88.