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What Causes Canker Sores? Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Canker sores, or aphthous ulcers, are shallow white lesions with inflamed pink borders that occur inside the lips and mouth. The sores are typically 1-4 mm in size, but complex sores can be larger than 5 mm. Though they are often confused with cold sores (HSV-1), canker sores are not contagious. Raw canker sores make it challenging to eat, sleep, and speak; even with traditional therapies, they often take 2-3 weeks to heal.

What Causes Canker Sores?

Canker sores are challenging to treat because they have no definitive cause. However, universal triggers for canker sores include:

  • NSAIDs (Motrin®, Aleve®)
  • Vitamin deficiencies (low vitamin B12 or iron)
  • Foods high in citric acid, such as oranges, tomatoes, and some cheeses
  • Underlying autoimmune conditions (HIV/AIDs, Lupus, Behçet's disease)
  • Chronic high stress or a traumatic life event
  • A family history of canker sore outbreaks

Mouth ulcers are often a signal that the body is in distress. However, if you've made positive lifestyle changes and still can't figure out what causes canker sores for you, genetics may be to blame. You may have to accept that you're generally prone to canker sores, but that doesn't mean you have to endure lifelong suffering. We’ll discuss a few treatment options below, including the Luminance RED, an FDA-cleared device used to treat and prevent canker sores and cold sores.

Canker Sore Hot Spots, Explained

There are different reasons why canker sores affect the gums, tongue, and mouth, but good oral hygiene protects all three areas. Here's why you may keep getting canker sores in these areas:

What causes canker sores on your gums?

Vigorous tooth brushing and excessive flossing can irritate your gums and make them vulnerable to canker sore outbreaks. Avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits such as using toothpicks and wearing dirty dental appliances. Always clean your retainers and nightguards.

What causes canker sores on your tongue?

Gently brushing your tongue to remove bad bacteria is important. But a tongue scraper can do more harm than good, especially if you develop canker sores on your tongue. Consult with your dentist about how to use a tongue scraper or alternatives to treating bad breath. Injuries to your tongue from extremely hot foods or biting may also trigger canker sores to form.

What causes canker sores in your mouth?

It's more challenging to identify the causes of canker sores on the soft palate, lips, and the inside of the cheek. You may develop sores in these areas due to frequently eating spicy foods or foods that trigger an autoimmune response. Allergies to Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS) in commercial brand toothpaste and mouthwash may also cause canker sores. If you're stressed, avoid chewing your lips. Home remedies and red light therapy may offer more relief than oral steroids.

3 Tips for At-Home Canker Sore Treatment

If you or your loved one are suffering from canker sores, home remedies can complement traditional therapies and provide extra pain relief. Mild canker sores are usually self-treated, and these items in your medicine cabinet and kitchen will support the healing process:

Use the Luminance RED

The Luminance RED device harnesses LED-low level laser therapy to quickly treat canker sores in children and adults. The treatment process, also known as photobiomodulation, will cause your skin to metabolize the light’s energy, allowing for a faster healing process and greater resistance against future sores.

Swish with coconut oil

Coconut oil pulling is a common home remedy (if you're allergic to coconuts, don't try it!). The Ayurvedic remedy for canker sores, thrush, and cavity prevention has been used with varying levels of success for many, many years. Place one tablespoon of organic extra virgin coconut oil on your tongue, then swish with the oil for a two-in-one canker sore and tooth decay treatment. After 5 minutes, spit out all the oil: it's full of harmful bacteria, and swallowing it can upset your stomach.

Coat the sores with honey

Raw honey is an anti-inflammatory solution for inflamed canker sores. Make sure to use raw (manuka) honey, as processed honey contains high fructose corn syrup and fewer antimicrobial compounds. Apply a layer of raw honey onto canker sores as soon as they appear, as many times per day as needed.

Red Light Therapy Prevents Canker Sores

Traditional treatment options for canker sores, such as cauterization and oral steroids, can be extremely painful and expensive. Traditional home remedies aren't guaranteed to speed up healing times or prevent future canker sore outbreaks. If you or your loved one suffer with canker sore outbreaks, find relief with the Luminance RED. FDA-cleared and free of side effects, the Luminance RED emits a soothing red light that heals and prevents canker sores. Hold the device to the affected areas for 60 seconds, twice per day. Two minutes is all it takes to stop these pesky ulcers from impacting your quality of life.