Canker Sores vs. Cold Sores - Part I

Canker sores and Cold sores -- do you know the difference -- other than they are both unpleasant, hurt like mad, take way too long to go away and generally can be found in/around your mouth?

These two very common oral issues are quite often confused with one another, but they are actually very different -- one is an inflammation/allergic reaction (Canker Sore) and the other is a viral infection (Cold Sore). Let’s explore each of these issues separately, with this article discussing:

CANKER SORES (Aphthous Ulcers)

These are small, white inflamed areas that turn into ulcers (open sores - sometimes with pus) and are generally found on the loose part of your gums, the tongue, and the inside of your lips and cheeks.

The following things can prompt outbreaks: gluten sensitivity, food allergies, dental problems, smoking, hormonal imbalances, biting your cheek, nutritional deficiencies and stress (physical and emotional); from my experience, stress and allergies seem to be the most common causes.

I get canker sores from food allergies/gluten sensitivity. Trigger foods for me: anything containing yeast (bread), chips, walnuts, dried apricots, dates, cantaloupe, oranges and avocados, to name a few; I have learned foods to avoid if I want to remain canker free, and how to treat them if they do arise (sometimes the eats are worth the pain!)

So what can you do to treat CANKER SORES?

Certainly, if you know certain foods trigger an outbreak, avoid or severely limit your intake, and if the sore doesn’t heal on its own, see a dentist or medical doctor. 

Some general recommendations:
  • Avoid or severely limit your use of potential triggers like: chewing gum, lozenges, commercial mouthwashes, tobacco, coffee, citrus fruits, sugar, walnuts, dates, processed/refined foods, and foods containing gluten. The additive SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) - a detergent - in toothpaste can exacerbate sores, so find one free of this ingredient.
  • A highly acidic diet slows healing, so opt for foods that will bring your pH balance into a more alkaline state, e.g. fruits and vegetables vs. animal protein.
  • Rinse your mouth several times daily with salt water -- it will heal and soothe the sores. I've talked with people who have had considerable success rinsing with food grade hydrogen peroxide -- makes my teeth hurt, but something for you to investigate and maybe try too.
  • The tannins found in tea are antiseptic, antiviral and antibacterial. Try putting a wet tea bag directly on the sore several times per day, or use herbs such as St. John’s Wort, Raspberry, Peppermint, or Licorice to make a tea and swish around in your mouth several times daily.
  • Make sure you keep well hydrated (with plain water) to continually flush waste material from your body as it works to heal the condition causing the sores!

My favorite remedies:

  • Lysine (an amino acid) -- I recommend taking 1000 - 1500 mg at first sign, and then 500 mg daily until completely clear. This one gets a 5-star rating -- it is SO helpful for both canker sores and cold sores! Sold as L-Lysine.
  • Pau d’ Arco - this herb is wonderful for treating Candida overgrowth in your body, and can provide significant improvement of sores within 24 hours. LOVE this herb!
  • Vitamin C - high doses, like 3,000 mg (and up), in divided doses throughout the day, are needed to boost your immune system and fight any infection.
  • Calendula - the herbal sunshine herb, great for healing things in places “where the sun don’t shine”! Calendula dries up moist conditions. Take the tincture internally and/or put drops in water and swish around in your mouth 2-3 times daily.
  • Goldenseal, Echinacea, Oregon Grape Root - will all promote healing; find the one you like and put 15 drops of tincture in water and swish in your mouth, 3 times daily.
  • Homeopathics are amazing to work with also! Borax and Mercurius solubilis used in alternating doses are very effective at helping heal and relieve the burning, itching, inflammation and pain of canker sores! I like to use these in tandem with Lysine and Pau d’ Arco for the added “umph”.
  • Burdock Root, Red Clover, Dandelion, Nettle, and Garlic are beneficial for cleansing your body and offer infection healing properties. These are best used as part of a regular program of health and support, as they are generally slow-acting and nurturing.

Others items for support/healing:

  • Quercetin - a flavonoid that reduces histamine (inflammation). Found in abundance in apples and red onions (hint: the sulfur in raw onions is very healing to canker sores), and also in supplement form.
  • B-vitamins - essential for immune function and healing. Add in extra B3, B5, and B12 for greater support during outbreaks.
  • Zinc - enhances your immune system and promotes healing. Opti-zinc from Solaray is a great product for regular use!
  • Acidophilus, Folic Acid, Vitamin A, and Iron (do not take iron unless a doctor has told you that you are deficient!).

Building up your immune system is vital to helping your body be less susceptible to canker outbreaks; diet and lifestyle are critical factors, so be frank with yourself and see where you can make positive changes.

While there is no one “cure” for canker sores, I hope the information I have presented in this article will give you something to work with the next time this issue crops up.

Content copyright Yvonne H. Laine

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