Thursday, June 19, 2003

Dealing with canker sores

Canker sores are extremely painful, inflammed, slow-to-heal mouth ulcers. Some people seem to be genetically prone to them; others are not. They might be caused by a virus, but it's not herpes. Unlike cold sores, canker sores don't seem to be contagious. They can be hellish -- if you've never had one before, picture what it might feel like to have a cigarette burn on the inside of your lip.

For many years, I tried rinsing with baking soda water or salt water, which only kinda-sorta worked. Topical anaesthetics like Oragel and Orabase didn't last long enough and didn't help the damned things heal.

But more recently I've discovered two things that have helped tremendously:

  1. Lysine -- This is an amino acid which you can buy as a supplement in the herb/vitamin section of most any supermarket or health food store.

    The trick with lysine is you have to take 1 or 2 tablets (500 to 1000 milligrams) right when you feel a sore coming on. If you wait until you've got a full-blown mouth ulcer, the lysine won't work so well. But I've found that if I hit an emerging sore with a dose of Lysine, 75% of the time it'll get completely knocked out within hours and never erupt.

    I've found I sometimes have to keep taking a 500 milligram dose each day for a few days if a sore keeps trying to come back. Your mileage may vary with this treatment, and if you have any illness that affects your ability to process protein, you definitely should check with your physician before trying this.

  2. Biotene -- This alcohol-free antiseptic mouthwash recently became available in the U.S. It uses artificial versions of the antibacterial enzymes naturally found in human saliva to combat plaque, tooth decay, and infection. It's rather expensive, and I initially found it somewhat disconcerting because I got the sensation I had just taken a swig of cold, peppermint-flavored spit (it's kind of thick).

    However, I've found the stuff really, really works. It's gentle, and it works wonders on any kind of mouth irritation. If you regularly get canker sores, I recommend you give this stuff a try, though you may find it too pricey to use as an everyday mouthwash.

  3. Hydrogen peroxide mouthwashes -- the brand I've tried with success is Colgate's Peroxyl. Alternately, you can just buy regular hydrogen peroxide and dilute it as per the label's instructions (this doesn't taste nearly as nice as Peroxyl, but it's much cheaper). If you have a sensitive mouth, this might be too harsh, but on the whole I've found peroxide washes less harsh and painful than alcohol mouthwashes, and they work much more effectively in healing up canker sores.

I have also heard that mixing a tablespoon of Benadryl Liquid and a tablespoon of Milk of Magnesia and swishing it around in one's mouth helps some people, but I haven't tried this one yet.