Why Do Smokers Get Fewer Canker Sores


It seems to be true, smokers get fewer canker sores on their gum, and other typical locations including tongue, inner lips, inside cheeks and soft palate.  It is rather ironic, because you would think that cigarette smoke would be an irritant to the mucous membrane inside the mouth and cause those nasty, painful mouth ulcers, rather than make them less frequent. Who thought there could actually be some kind of benefit to smoking? While this appears to be anecdotal information, let’s look at some possible reasons.

Canker Sores Suddenly Appear After Quitting Smoking

It appears that for some people, when they quit smoking all of a sudden they start getting canker sores, even if they never had them before in their life. Then when they have a relapse and start smoking again, their mouth sore outbreaks go away. In fact, if you read the quit smoking forums and support groups, this issue is frequently brought up.

No one can really explain this phenomenon. And no one can really explain what causes canker sores in the first place. Some ideas are that it is an immune system malfunction of some kind, hormonal fluctuations (which can explain why women are prone to sores more so than men), physical trauma to the mouth, or an allergy or sensitivity to certain foods or even the SLS in toothpaste, while for others it may be hereditary. Whatever the reason, many former smokers report that once they quit smoking they started getting canker sores, when they never did before. Maybe the body is trying to purge the tar and nicotine and other chemicals that the cigarettes had bombarded the immune system with, or maybe the new nonsmoker is experiencing stress that was previously relieved by smoking. Another theory is that tobacco smoking makes the mouth more alkaline, and when you quit your mouth becomes more acidic and it can take several months for it to re-balance. It seems that canker sore flare-ups can occur for months in people who have given up the tobacco habit, and for others it’s an ongoing battle.

Dramatic Canker Sore Relief When Smoking

The Western Journal of Medicine cites four cases where patients had dramatic and near complete relief from canker sores if they continued to smoke cigarettes. In one of the cases, a man developed multiple large ulcers in just a week after he quit his 18-year habit. He would get very large and painful ulcers, as many as 10 or 12 at a time, making talking, eating and drinking very difficult and painful. They would take as long as two weeks to heal and then a few days later new ones would appear.  After several months of suffering, the man resumed smoking and within a day his pain had lessened and by day three his mouth ulcers disappeared. It seemed whenever he would stop smoking his aphthous ulcers would return and when he took up the habit again they would go away. Another man had recurring painful multiple canker sores on the tongue and inside his mouth and in spite of numerous attempts at treatment, found no relief. He started smoking and found immediate, dramatic relief and it continued as long as he smoked around five cigarettes per day.

These cases discussed above are interesting, but  there is no logical explanation as to why smoking would bring relief. It suggests that there may be some kind of therapeutic connection between smoking canker sores but it remains a mystery why smoking would produce such profound relief.

Canker Sore Treatments That Won’t Hurt Your Body

I do not recommend getting a nicotine fix as a means of relieving or preventing recurrent aphthous ulcers, but it is certainly baffling as to why tobacco would offer protection against the annoying and painful ulcers. There are many ways you can safely treat your canker sores without harming your body. Some of the most promising canker sore treatments include high doses of vitamin B12 (1000 mcg nightly was studied and found to be effective), licorice root extract patches, which can be found at the drugstore, aloe vera gel, bee propolis, as well as a range of home remedies from salt water rinses to milk of magnesia dabbed on the ulcer. It is also worth mentioning that many people seem to find they experience fewer canker sores after changing to an SLS-free toothpaste.

So whatever you do, don’t use canker sores as an excuse to return to that nasty nicotine habit. Your body will thank you.

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