Today’s Canker Sore Treatments Beat the old ones

If you get a canker sore, you’ve got a wealth of modern treatment options at your fingertips. You can gargle a specialty alcohol-free mouthwash to neutralize the odor or, for a deeper clean, rinse with a periotherapy product. In a pinch, you can even gargle salt water! But it wasn’t always this easy. In the 1800s, canker sore treatments were a little more, shall we say, unpleasant.

One of the weirder and more instructive reads you’ll find on the matter is Samuel North’s The Family Physician and Guide to Health (Waterloo, NY: 1830).

Pages 109-110 are all about canker sores, and the discomfort and bad breath they cause. If you were to follow Mr. North’s advice on canker sores, these are some of the many odd remedies you might try:

– Wash them with soapsuds.

– Rinse with strong tea.

– Apply a pinch of cayenne pepper (yowch!), followed by a poultice of white bread and ginger soaked with tea.

– Hold on a piece of eggshell until it sticks, then let it naturally fall off after several weeks.

- Apply yarrow juice.

– Apply a carrot poultice “if it becomes putrid”.

– Apply clay “if inflamed”.

– Finally, if it becomes gangrenous – wait, what?? – apply wheat flour. North reassuringly points out that “it will not fail”.

All right, in all seriousness, do not try any of these when treating your canker sores. While some might be harmless, like white bread or carrots, few would actually do anything beneficial. (Tea, in fact, might stain your teeth.) And a few, like yarrow root or cayenne would be extraordinarily painful.

Instead, go modern. Use a specialty breath freshening mouthwash that contains no alcohol, allergens or sodium lauryl sulfate. Such a product uses 21st-century formulations to knock out canker sores a.s.a.p.

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