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MIT blogger Rona W. '21

how i handle canker sores by Rona W. '23

not professional medical advice

For the last several years, I’ve been getting canker sores around the inside of my bottom lip. If you’ve been lucky enough to never experience them, canker sores are circular ulcers that appear on the soft tissue of your mouth. From what I’ve gathered online, what happens is that the top layer of skin dissolves, exposing the nerve endings, so whenever the sore is touched (which happens often, since it’s in your mouth), it hurts. They last about a week, and can make it painful to eat or speak. Their cause is unknown.

photo of canker sore

 image i found online

I don’t remember when I started getting these. It was definitely when I was a teenager, but I’m not sure if it was in high school or college. I get them several times a year. Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of remedies to ease the pain. Here is how they’ve worked for me:

  • Ice. I figured I could use ice to numb the pain. This did not work that well, because the sore is on the inside of my mouth, not the outside, so I couldn’t really hold a bags of frozen peas to my lips and ice easily melts inside my mouth.  1/10
  • Salt. I saw on Reddit that putting a lot of salt on a canker sore would kill the bacteria and promote healing. All this did was sting quite a bit, and did nothing to make my sore heal faster. 0/10
  • Honey. Also a Reddit suggestion. This didn’t sting, but it still did nothing to make my sore heal faster. Honey was more fun to eat, though. 2/10
  • Benzocaine. Several brands, such as Orajel, sell anesthetics that contain 20% benzocaine. I squirt a little gel onto the sore and while it stings initially, eventually the inhibiting mechanism of benzocaine eases the pain. The gel is mint-flavored but it tastes a little gross, and if you’re not careful while applying it, it can numb your tongue too. Also, the numbness only lasts about 20 minutes for me. Still, it’s very useful for eating, so I often use this before meals when I have a canker sore. 7/10
  • Oralmedic. This is a topical medication that isn’t available in the United States and is unfortunately quite expensive to purchase online ($25 for two swabs). Also, it is very very painful for about five seconds. From my understanding, it basically cauterizes the sore and creates a seal, so nerve endings cannot be stimulated anymore. Afterwards, my canker sore didn’t hurt anymore and I could move on with my life. If you’re going to use this, I recommend having somebody else apply the swab. 9/10
  • Tom’s of Maine. Of course, prevention is the best remedy. Googling canker sore causes didn’t give me anything definitive; I had noticed that canker sores always crop up if my mouth is injured, but sometimes, they would occur even without an injury. I decided to try a different toothpaste, and the Internet recommended Tom’s of Maine, which is SLS-free, meaning it lacks sodium lauryl sulfate. Since I’ve started using it, I haven’t gotten a single canker sore, except for one week where I was traveling and using a different toothpaste instead. Maybe that was just a coincidence . . . but I’m going to play it safe and keep using Tom’s. 10/10

Disclaimer: I am not any kind of medical professional, nor am I even a biology major. I’ve only taken one biology class at MIT, and that was only because it’s a requirement. This blog post is only about my experience, and should not be considered actual medical advice.