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.

28 comments for “Why Do Smokers Get Fewer Canker Sores

  1. Sarah
    January 9, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    I am so happy to have read this article because every time a gave smoking my mouth would break out in sorse. I stopped smoken for 8 days now and the sorse are coming back, better yet I have braces on my teeth. I don’t like pain and the first thing I want to so is smoke a cigarette so that the sorse will go away….

    • Wendy
      December 5, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      I also gave up smoking after 40 years. It’s been 9 weeks and for the past 3 weeks I’ve been suffering from cankers. I usually have two or three on the go and it is very painful. I also went through 2 weeks of severe heart burn…thankfully that has stopped. I know I will feel better in the long run but for now I feel like crap both mentally and physically.

  2. Amy
    January 13, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    This is an ongoing battle for me but it does stop after a few years of not smoking. I quit for three years and battled the sores for the first two. I started smoking again for about six months and am 11 days into this quit and here come the sores. I know what I’m in for and I know there’s no cure. My mother went through the same when she quit.I also know its not emotional or therapeutic. The cigs def suppress the sores but what I hadn’t heard is the theory that the body is trying to expel toxins, that’s possible but I believe it’s a phenomenon that needs research.

  3. Steve
    February 6, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    I quit smoking about 8 years ago but went through this on 3 different occasions when i tried to quit smoking. This last time (8 years ago) I put up with multiple canker sores over and over for about a year and was close to starting to smoke again but instead I started using Listerine twice a day (I sound like a commercial, don’t I) and the canker sores started to go away. I’ve been doing the same thing since and I don’t get many sores anymore. Maybe 2 or 3 a year. If you are suffering like i was it is worth a shot. I hope it helps!

  4. Chuck
    February 19, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    I use to get canker sores as a kid, but have been smoking since I was 16. I never get canker sores while I am a smoker. EVERYTIME I try to stop smoking its like my canker sores come back with a vengence. I’ve told my doctors about this and they look at me like I’m a nut. Nothing I have found stops the canker sores. And after many times of trying to stop smoking, and the return of canker sores I always resume smoking. I am trying to quit again as I write this. With the help of patches and electronic cigarettes. I’m tying to find the minimal cigarettes to smoke that will stop the canker sores and atleast cut back on smoking.

    • Kevin
      January 8, 2014 at 9:09 am

      Hey just wanted to know if e cigs worked on cancer sores I can’t find any help !

      • Tina Anderson
        January 30, 2014 at 2:53 pm

        The do help a little Kevin. Keeps me from lighting up. I’m on the patch too but I only take a drag off the ecig when I’m tempted to light one up.

      • Rick
        June 1, 2014 at 7:29 pm

        They haven’t helped me with canker sores at all.. Been using ecigs for a year and my sores did not decrease in that time, I now smoke two small cigars a day, not inhaling the smoke but holding it in my mouth for a bit, and it works great. Haven’t had a canker sore in two months when I had them constantly. Tried every single other cure, Steroid paste from the doctor also helped but less the more I used it. The health risk from the two coats a day is worth the trade of from constant pain for me.. I can finally enjoy eating again. And I hate the way the cigars taste so no risk of wanting to start smoking again for me. Ymmv so be careful if you try it.

      • Derek
        August 15, 2015 at 11:30 am

        NO they do not! I’m currently trying to quit smoking and have a few canker sores. 2 of them are in my throat and driving me crazy. I bought a fairly expensive vape the day I quit ND it does not help, in fact it dries them out ND makes it hurt worse when I swallow.

    • Tina Anderson
      January 30, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      OMG I’m going through the exact same thing and I’ve been smoking since I was 16 too. I think we’d better just ride it out. Going back and lighting up is so not the answer.

  5. Jennifer
    March 11, 2013 at 5:59 am

    I had never smoked. A few years ago I started to get chronic users on my tounge. They were so bad they affected my speech and in turn affected my job. I tried all the remedies mentioned above and nothing worked, a doctor even put me on steroids for a while. Just so you know the medical world has no idea what causes them. I knew my dad smoked because he would get users when he stopped. So at 42 I started smoking 2 cigars a day( I figured they have a few less chemicals than cigs). I have now been ulser free for 4 months. I know it’s not healthy but the pain had become unbearable.

  6. Jeff
    April 15, 2013 at 5:29 am

    I’ve suffered this same fate…try to quit smoking and end up with a mouthful of recurring canker sores. Not sure if it will work for everyone, but I eventually switched to a SLS-free toothpaste and I faithfully rinse with listerine at least once a day. Worked like a charm for me. I still had to avoid certain foods (chips and salsa are the kiss of death!).

    I gave up smoking for 8 years once I started that routine. Felt very blessed. Stupidly, I fell off the wagon about 2 years ago. Getting ready to quit again. Wish me luck!

  7. Kendra
    April 6, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    I’m happy to see I’m not alone here! I have been smoke free for over 3 months now but my cankers are awful! I have one inside my mouth that is the size of a dime. I haven’t found any relief even 800mg of ibuprofen doesn’t touch it. I can’t eat I can’t talk. I’ve switched toothpaste, started using mouthwash. I have 4 right now this is terrible.

    • kendra
      March 8, 2016 at 10:00 pm

      It’s been over 2 years and I’m still getting them non-stop!

  8. August 17, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    I had the same problem and battled it for 2 years, yet when I smoke one or start back, they clear up within days. I told my MD and he said there is no connection. When I told my dentist, the nurse said that my mouth is making a bacteria that causes the canker sores. She explained that the smoke killed the bacteria, thus fixing the problem of the sores. They are very painful, more so than an extraction or root canal, yet Dentists want you to “try” this rinse and see if it helps.

  9. Jack
    September 25, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    I’ve had canker sores for many years. Usually 4-6 per year. They are usually small and last 10-14 days but still painful. Pineapple was one food that seemed to cause them for me but I’m not sure anymore. I haven’t changed my diet but I have had one mouth sore after another for three straight months. I’ve never smoked in my life so I’m not planning to start but this is very annoying. Please let me know if you find anything else that works to prevent them.

  10. kendra
    October 15, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Coconut oil!!! Organic coconut oil. I was plagued with cankers after quitting smoking. It was awful. I couldn’t eat, drink, or talk half the time. It was horrific. I tried everything that I found on these boards. I had heard about oil pulling for mouth detoxing and thought id give it a shot. I swished for 30 minutes every day until my existing cankers went away. I did it while showering and getting myself ready. Now I just swish maybe once a week as a preventative. Sometimes I forget because I am canker free and one will pop up…oil pull 30 min for two days and its gone. Noore suffering for a week or two for the huge ulcers to heal!!!

    • kendra
      October 15, 2014 at 8:08 am

      Added bonus is that it is really good for your teeth!!!

    • nicky
      May 15, 2015 at 8:35 pm

      I’m trying tonight, thanx.

  11. Kevin
    October 20, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    I tried coconut oil for three days nothing happened ,how long did it take for you Kendra ?

  12. Kevin
    December 13, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    I’m back again 2 months no cigs no sores ! I’m on 20 mg prednisone daily I’m also on 6mp doctors will try to taper me off predisone after 6mp kicks in will keep this site and others posted ! I’ve been dealing with this for 15 years on my own until now working with two doctors connected to Yale in new haven ! Again will let all know what happens soon !

    • kendra
      March 8, 2016 at 10:02 pm

      How did it work for you?

  13. Heather
    July 28, 2016 at 9:49 am

    I’ve had canker sores since I was 5 years old, a’t least that’s is as far back as I can remember. Always painful, and never without at least one, and sometimes up to 20. I started smoking at 15, I know that’s horrible, but the sores went away. I’ve been on and off again smoker ever since. I have Crohns and severe depression, along with multiple surgeries, I hate smoking but it’s either that, or steroids continually. I’d much rather have a good remedy than to keep going back to smoking or taking steroids, even my Dr. knows that smoking relieves them but can’t advise that as a solution. I just quit again 4 days ago, and it’s starting again, so tired of this, I really don’t want cancer

  14. Merl
    July 27, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    I suffered from canker sores my whole life and haven’t had to deal with them since I started smoking. I will never quit.

  15. Tim
    February 20, 2018 at 7:03 pm

    I’ve fought this battle over and over again. My doctor agreed to try a round of steroids this time when they came back (Medrol dose pack). It cleared up the ulcers very quickly. Felt great! Then, 2 weeks later, they came back again. First one inside my upper lip. Then when that started to heal one inside my lower lip. Now that’s starting to heal and I have 5 more forming in my lower lip.

    I’m done. I’m going to give the ones that just broke out a week. If they’re not on the mend by then, or more start breaking out, I’m going to stop and buy a pack of camels. I’d rather lose a few years off of my life than live with the constant pain. Can’t even kiss my wife it’s so bad.

  16. Valerie Johnston
    March 26, 2018 at 10:33 am

    I had canker sores my whole life. Then when I was 20 I got braces. I had also started smoking at that time, too. Got the canker sores during the braces, but after they came off, rarely if ever got one again. Smoked for 30 years. Awful; I know. I started slowing down smoking 4 months ago and have totally quit smoking for 2 months and a week now. The canker sores are back and I’m sick of it. Seems like every time one heals another one pops up. Hurts to kiss my husband. I’m so tempted to start up again, but I’m going to try to coconut oil first. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll try the cigar smoke. At least I’m not inhaling that. If that doesn’t work, then I guess I’m doomed to be a smoker for the rest of my life. The thing is that I have absolutely no desire to smoke again. Hate the smell, hate the taste. Uggghhhh!

  17. Doug
    July 16, 2019 at 7:25 am

    I have battled canker sores my whole life. I started using nicotine toothpicks as a nootropic, being that nicotine is not harmful for you if you’re an adult. I have been canker sore free now since using them. There are some studies to back this up.

    Hope this helps someone.

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