Canker Sores and Celiac Disease: Correlated, but Why?

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Neither pâté nor canker sores are photogenic, so enjoy this flippin' adorable puppy.

I ate some bad paté the other day.

Bad for two reasons: one, it just wasn’t that good. Two, despite what I thought was a careful ingredient check, I got glutened.

How do I know? Because I woke up the next morning with a canker sore. Ugh.

It’s been a while since I had one of those; in fact, it’s probably been since the last time I ate something I shouldn’t have. These days the correlation is pretty strong, but it took me a while to realize that the two were related. I don’t remember now if I found out by reading it online, or just by connecting the dots with my own symptoms.

So, does one condition necessitate the other? As with so much celiac research, the answer is, “sometimes, maybe.”

Canker sores in general are poorly-understood. They’re not cold sores nor are they related to herpes in any way. They’re not contagious. They don’t appear on the outside of your mouth. According to the Mayo Clinic, canker sores are, “small, shallow lesions that develop on the soft tissues in your mouth and at the base of your gum.”

It’s an accurate description; if I get one it’s a week or so of annoyance until it goes away. In high school I got them intermittently, thankfully never to the degree of severity that you can find if you search online (I don’t recommend you do this search, and I double-don’t-recommend looking at pictures).

The Mayo Clinic lists a whole variety of possible causes: a minor injury to the mouth, food sensitivities, bacteria, a compromised immune system, stress, lack of B-12, folate and iron, being female, products containing sodium lauryl sulfate…and of course, celiac disease.

In terms of prevention, the best thing to do is treat yourself well: make sure your vitamin levels are on target, don’t cheat on the gluten-free diet, don’t stress too much.

If you get particularly painful canker sores, there are a handful of pastes and medications on the market, many of which you’d need a prescription for / are really geared towards a debilitating outbreak. I don’t have any experience with them, but I do find that ice feels nice and a standard OTC mouthwash twice daily seems to shorten the duration notably.

Interestingly, some research from Tehran suggests that for some celiacs, canker sores are the only outward symptom. So if you know anyone who refuses to get tested for celiac but gets canker sores, this might be the way to finally get them into the doctor’s office.

Is this a symptom you or anyone you know gets? How do you handle it?


15 thoughts on “Canker Sores and Celiac Disease: Correlated, but Why?”

  1. You can shorten a bout of canker sores by taking L-Lysine. It works for me every time. I take one capsule in the morning and one before bed when I have a recurrence. Now I have a better idea of why I get canker sores in the first place.

  2. I get canker sores, which are related to my arthritis. I never knew they could also be related to my CD. My guess is that they’re a tell-tale sign of any AI disease disturbance or flare, which has always been the case for me. So, in actuality, I wouldn’t think that someone who had chronic cankers needs to be tested for Celiac disease, but should watch for signs of any auto-immune syndrome.

  3. Took me about 3 months to make the connection. I went gluten-free about 3 years ago for GI relief (I was convinced I had ovarian cancer), and after a few months of feeling great, I realized I had not had any mouth sores, or “heat” rashes and my itching scalp had also disappeared. All good.

  4. Thank you, that explains it. I have been bothered for years by canker sores, but I didn’t even realize that I haven’t had a single one since going gluten free, until I read this!

  5. I have gotten canker sores my whole life. I had two pretty severe ones that were refusing to go away when I started a gluten-free diet for the first time a few weeks ago. Within two days, both canker sores were gone, and I haven’t had another since. So crazy.

  6. I was plagued with these as a child and some prior to my celiac diagnosis as an adult. None since going gluten-free. One thing that worked for me when I had them was dabbing a little Camphophenique on them.

  7. In the year before my Celiac diagnosis I was plagued with terrible canker sores. A couple of them were so bad that I had to go to the dentist to have them treated because I was unable to clear them up with OTC treatments. Since going gluten free I haven’t had one! Now my dentist has even recommended other patients with chronic canker sores be tested for celiac; it was a lesson for her too.

  8. I have suffered from canker sores for many years with no obvious cause. I always chalked it up to a vitamin deficiency. My mother always said I should gargle milk and swoosh it around in the sore area. I have found that to work fairly well. I like mouthwash, too. It’s good to know that there’s a possible cause for the painful incidences. Thanks for the info!

  9. I have been getting them for years after being exposed to slight amounts of gluten. I usually get them with no other symptoms of a full-blown gluten attack. I’m so used to them that I am almost grateful that they were the only result of being exposed to some gluten.

  10. Right before I was diagnosed with Celiac’s, I had an awful outbreak of canker sores. My doctor assured me it had nothing to do with my stomach issues. My doctor was not as informed as she should have been. I used Lysine and it did alleviate the sores. Over the past couple of years I have been diagnosed with 3 autoimmune diseases and realize how much is unknown about these diseases and how one autoimmune relates to another. I strongly believe we need to be our biggest advocates and if you think something is not right, keep fighting to get a doctor to fight for you too!

  11. I had lifelong canker sores and was diagnosed with Celiac at age 52. Before going gluten free I used toothpaste without sodium laurel sulfate and rinsed with Biotene mouthwash. Those measures would help contain things but once I went gluten free I only get them with I get glutened and they are never as terrible as they were. I used to ask every doctor and dentist I saw if there was anything new known about canker sores. After I was diagnosed my dentist told me that people with Crohn’s disease get canker sores.

  12. I discovered that I was gluten intolerant by starting the GF diet against medical advice. My GI dr thought I was an anorexic looking for a fad weight loss diet… not anorexic, just malnourished! I was never tested for CD. Not only did I feel a million times better staying away from gluten and my really painful cankers finally disappeared-besides of course the rare cases when gluten slips into my food. I also had really bad ‘acne’ that would not respond to any treatments. I went GF and my face cleared up for the first time at the age of 29.

    The more I read about my symptoms the more I am convinced I have CD, not just an intolerance. Thank you for the info!

  13. I find that if I use the most basic Crest toothpaste, I am allright. I am not diagnosed with CD, but I am going to ask tne doctor about it. Suffered from aweful canker sores til Ifigured out the toothpaste thing. Helps me.

  14. i am years late in seeing this article – however i have suffered debilitating canker sores since early childhood. No prescription, visit to the dentist or over the counter things helped at all. I missed school … missed work … spent days sick and in bed. sometimes i couldnt eat for days because the swelling was so terrible. to this day my tongue is somewhat deformed from the number of canker sores i had. I was diagnosed as Celiac two years ago because of unrelated symptoms. I am also allergic to sodium lauryl sulfate. its amazing how much has changed in medicine just in my lifetime – my health issues have stumped all sorts of doctors. I hope this info can help someone else end their pain at an earlier stage. thank you for this.

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