Canker sores are those pesky white ulcers that form inside your mouth. While not dangerous, they can be painful and make things like eating, drinking and talking a lot harder to do. Unlike cold sores that form on the lips and skin around the mouth, canker sores aren’t caused by a virus. In fact, doctors really don’t know what the exact cause of these sores is. The good news is, you can treat them without having to make a trip to the drug store.

The key to pretty much all medical and natural treatments for canker sores is killing the bacteria that cause the sore. There are many at-home treatments that have antiseptic properties without all the side effects and dangers of medication. Here are some:

* Black Tea. Black tea contains an antiseptic called tannin, also present in certain over-the-counter canker sore medications. To get a strong enough dose, moisten the tea bag and apply directly to the sores.

* Hydrogen Peroxide. Mixing a bit with water and rinsing several times a day will help to kill bacteria and help the sore heal faster. You may also try using a regular mouthwash more often, but be wary of the kind that sting – they can be very painful when put on sores.

* Alum. This is a spice you probably have sitting in your kitchen cabinets. While it won’t make the sore heal any faster, it does provide pain relief and will keep the sore from getting worse. It’s best to apply it as soon as you notice the sore.

Besides killing bacteria, giving the sore a protective coating will help keep bacteria out and help it heal. Just like antiseptics, there are materials you probably have in the cabinet that will coat your sores and help them heal faster. Try swishing a liquid antacid around in your mouth like a rinse. This will coat sores with a soothing barrier. A plus side is that these products also have antiseptic properties to help kill the bacteria as it protects.

While doctors really don’t know what causes canker sores, they know there are certain behaviors that can aggravate the condition. In addition to other treatments, changing your behaviors can decrease healing time and even lessen their occurrence. Reducing stress, changing your diet (hot foods and acidic foods like citrus are big offenders), and brushing your teeth less vigorously can all help reduce your canker sores.

You should remember that just like medications, no home remedies will work overnight and there’s none that will work for everyone. However, if you try many different cures, natural or over the counter, and don’t see any improvement or have many severe canker sores, you should see a health professional. Severe or persistent sores may be indicators of a more serious health problem.