Does Stress Cause Canker Sores?

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ask the experts

Is there a connection between stress and canker sores? What can I do to get rid of them and prevent future outbreaks?

Doctor's response

Canker sores (also called aphthous ulcers) are shallow, red or white sores that develop anywhere inside the mouth. It is not known exactly why these sores develop, but stress does seem to precipitate canker sores in many people.

Canker sores go away on their own without any treatment; however, doctors often recommend pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen if the sores cause significant pain. There are other medications which can be applied directly to the sore to help prevent the sores from becoming further irritated and to help control pain. Many of these are the same type of medications used for teething pain in young children and babies. Examples include Anbesol, Oragel, and Orabase. In severe cases, doctors may recommend prescription medications in the form of tablets or mouthwashes to help relieve pain and inflammation.

There are no proven methods to prevent canker sores from developing. Over-the-counter L-lysine is sometimes used. Good oral hygiene and avoiding hard, crunchy, or irritating foods may help to prevent canker sores that might develop as a result of irritation or trauma to the inside of the mouth.

Robert Bargar, MD; Board Certification in Public Health & General Preventive Medicine


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Reviewed on 8/7/2017