Dealing with chronic mouth sores

A bit my my cheek recenlty – and then it healed. Some time later I cut my lip while playing with Luna – and for the following week I was slightly annoyed by the wound.

That might sound awfully dull, but for me that's a huge reason to celebrate. Cause for years whenever I got even a tiniest wound in my oral cavity, chances were that I'd spend that week barely talking, barely eating, I couldn't kiss or have sex, or sometimes the pain would get so awful I wouldn't even be able to think.

I have (had?) recurrent aphthous stomatitis. It's benign and not contagious, but for it's a real pain in the… well, mouth.

But it did get better over the years, so I've decided it would be good to share my story and possibly help others that might struggle with similar issues. But a quick disclaimer first:

  • this is not a medical advice – I'm just a person sharing their own experience,
  • this is not an ad of some pseudoscientific magical remedy – I'm not trying to sell you anything.

Why is it so hard to fix?`

To quote Wikipedia:

The cause is not entirely clear, but is thought to be multifactorial. It has been suggested that aphthous stomatitis is not a single entity, but rather a group of conditions with different causes. Multiple research studies have attempted to identify a causative organism, but aphthous stomatitis appears to be non-contagious, non-infectious, and not sexually transmissible.

I've seen multiple GPs, dentists, laryngologists in three different countries about my problem. Neither was able to fix my problems.

Things that weren't really helping

Lots of advice I tried implementing didn't really help at all. Avoiding spicy food, avoiding lemons, rinsing with baking soda, things like that. Maybe it'll work for you. But for me it didn't.

Pain management

I was recommended a thing called Solcoseryl in one pharmacy – and it's honestly the best thing I've ever tried for pain management. It numbs the spot almost immediately and its paste texture makes it stay in place for a long time and prevent further irritation. Marvellous! The next best thing to not having ulcers at all.

Unfortunately, it was available in Poland and Germany, but it's not a thing in the Netherlands. When I moved here I had to switch to a thing called Evisense Pro Aften Gel, which does a… decent job. Not perfect, but decent.

Oh, and I drink tea from chamomile and echinacea. Helps a lot!

Sodium lauryl sulfate

I learned that there's a compound called sodium lauryl sulfate, which can cause irritation and might lead to canker sores.

A safety concern has been raised on the basis of several studies regarding the effect of toothpaste SDS on aphthous ulcers, commonly referred to as canker or white sores.

The thing is, this compound is present in almost every toothpaste on the market. Yup…

So I switched to those few toothpastes that don't contain it (or fluoride, just in case, cause apparently it might have a similar effect on some people). And although it was in no way a rigorous scientific study on my part, I can tell you, annectodally, that it helped massively. The sores didn't disappear entirely, but they got quite a bit less frequent in general, and there was about a half fewer of those that turned excruciatingly painful.

Brushing my teeth. A lot.

Of course I had been brushing my teeth regularly. I'm not a person who'd give zero shits about their oral hygiene only to complain that they have some magical, unexplained problems.

I switched to an electric toothbrush, I kept picking the softest brushes available. That was helping, but not solving the problem.

But one day I had a thought: if they recommend avoiding citruses cause they make mouth more acidic, and baking soda is supposed to help because it's making the enviromnent more basic, maybe I should minimise the time my oral cavity is exposed to any weird pH fluctuations and bits of food left over. There's always gonna be minor wounds and bites happening, but maybe in the proper environment, they'd simply heal properly instead of turning into an ulcer?

I used to brush my teeth twice a day for two minutes, as recommended, plus whenever I felt I needed to. But then I made it a habit to brush as soon as I've eaten something. Anything. Even a tiniest snack. Anything that could leave bits in between teeth, anything that could change the pH. Just leave as little time possible for the potential sores to develop in less than ideal conditions.

And you know what? It's been a game changer.

I'd still get some sores, but nowhere near what I had had before.

Flossing. Finally.

Dentists keep recommending flossing. A lot. And for good reasons, it's obviously super important and beneficial.

The thing is, though, for me it was a torture. The amount of pain and bleeding it caused was terrible. Which speaks volumes of how bad my gums went because of the sores. Or how bad my sores went because of my gums. Honestly, it's a vicious cycle – but I finally found a way to break it.

Obviously, the steps described above helped with flossing pain as well. But it still wasn't nice. Then I tried those water flossing machines, one with a “sensitive” setting. And I also found out there's a sensitive floss in Kruidvat (although only bought it a few times and then it disappeared from the shelves?), which is more like a cotton thread than a fly line.

They all worked wonders. After a few months of daily flossing with them, my gums got healthy again and I was able to switch to regular floss.

Summing up

Canker sores were ruining my life for years, ever since I can remember. The solution in my case was surprisingly simple, even though it took me ages to discover it:

  • avoid toothpastes with sodium lauryl sulfate and fluoride,
  • brush after every meal or snack, as soon as possible,
  • find a floss for sensitive gums and use it a lot,
  • find the best available pain management gel and always keep it on you, just in case.
A photo of me

About the author

Hi! I'm Andrea (they/them). I tell computers what to do, both for a living and for fun, I'm also into blogging, writing and photography. I'm trying to make the world just a little bit better: more inclusive, more rational and more just.