Aphthous Stomatitis Treatment & Management

Updated: Sep 25, 2020
  • Author: Ginat W Mirowski, MD, DMD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
  • Print

Approach Considerations

Many therapeutic options, with varying degrees of supporting evidence, are recommended for the treatment of aphthous stomatitis. The choice should be guided by disease severity, level of evidence, cost, and adverse effect profile. Treatment for recurrent aphthous ulcers is directed at palliation of symptoms, shortening of healing time, [83, 84] and prophylaxis against future episodes.

Of note, many of the treatments are used without research demonstrating therapeutic results specific to aphthous stomatitis. A 2012 Cochrane review of systemic treatments for aphthous stomatitis found that data from four major trials lacked methodological rigor and concluded that no single therapy could be recommended given the data currently available. [85]



Medical Care

Please refer to medications section for specific information regarding recommended dosage and mechanism of action.

Topical regimens may include the following:

  • Topical corticosteroids, including dexamethasone, [86] triamcinolone, fluocinonide, and clobetasol [66]

  • Immunomodulatory agents, including retinoids, cyclosporine, and amlexanox [87, 88] : Cyclosporine has been tested as a systemic agent and a topical paste with mixed reports of efficacy, but it is now most often used effectively as an oral rinse. [89, 90, 91] Isotretinoin (0.1% gel), tretinoin in an adhesive base (0.1%), and retinoic acid in an oral base (0.05%) have been used in the treatment of oral lichen planus with reported efficacy, and they may also be useful in the treatment of recurrent aphthous ulcers. [92, 93] Researchers have also found systemic isotretinoin to be an effective therapy for recurrent aphthous ulcers. [94]

  • Antimicrobials, including tetracycline, [95] chlorhexidine gluconate, [96] and dilute hydrogen peroxide

  • Anesthetics such as topical lidocaine or benzocaine [97]

  • Occlusive and bioadherents agents such as oral bioadherent (Gelclair), [98] sucralfate, bismuth subsalicylate, and 2-octyl cyanoacrylate [99] : Some studies have reported improvement in symptomology and duration of ulcers, [100] while other studies have found that sucralfate is not effective in the treatment of recurrent aphthous ulcers. [101]  Some clinicians advise patients to include bismuth subsalicylate in mouthwash recipes along with other ingredients, such as liquid diphenhydramine. [102, 103]

Systemic agents may include the following:

  • Systemic steroids such as prednisone and dexamethasone [104]

  • Immunomodulatory agents such as colchicine, [80, 105, 106] azathioprine, [107] montelukast, [104] clofazimine, [108] sulodexide, [109] and thalidomide [80] : Close follow-up, including nerve conduction studies and electromyography every 6 months, is recommended in patients using thalidomide. [110]  Montelukast is reported to have equal efficacy as prednisone in the treatment of recurrent aphthous stomatitis, with fewer adverse effects. [104, 109]

Miscellaneous medical treatments are as follows:

  • Pentoxifylline: Hemorheologic agents may be beneficial in patients who do not respond to other therapies; they are not first-line treatment. [111]
  • Quercetin [112, 113]
  • Secretagogues such as cevimeline (Evoxac) or pilocarpine (Salagen) [32]
  • Curcumin: This agent has been suggested as promising for recurrent aphthous stomatitis, with good efficacy reported for relieving pain and reducing ulcer size. [114] Further study with good-quality clinical trials was highly recommended.
  • Probiotic lozenges: Studies have suggested that probiotic lozenges, specifically one containing Lactobacillus reuteri, may be helpful for pain relief and ulcer healing in recurrent aphthous stomatitis, with further research warranted. [115, 116]
  • Doxycycline: A single application of topical doxycycline showed efficacy in reducing the signs and symptoms of recurrent aphthous stomatitis; however, well-designed clinical trials with adequate sample sizes are required. [117]

Laser therapy has been reported to provide pain relief and lesion resolution for isolated lesions, but it does not affect episodic recurrence. [118, 119]


Surgical Care

No surgical treatment has been used effectively because of the recurrent nature of recurrent aphthous ulcers. [120]



An elimination diet may help control outbreaks by revealing suspected allergic stimuli that initiate oral lesions. If food exposure is thought to be the culprit, a food diary can be helpful. [121, 122, 123] Advise avoidance of salt and hot spices to prevent pain from unnecessary aphthae irritation. Some patients report aphthae after exposure to figs, pineapple, cheese, and sodium lauryl sulfate, which is found in certain toothpastes and oral rinses. In such cases, remission may be achieved by avoiding the inciting agent.

A gluten-free diet helps patients with gluten-sensitive enteropathy (celiac disease) control outbreaks of aphthae. [31]

Patients with oral lesions should avoid hard or sharp foods that may gouge existing ulcers or create new ones (Koebnerization).

Although some patients may have demonstrable hematinic deficiencies, daily multivitamin therapy does not appear to prevent recurrent aphthous stomatitis episodes. [124]



An association between smoking and reducing the occurrence of recurrent aphthous ulcer has been reported. In one epidemiologic study, the incidence of recurrent aphthous ulcer was lower in all groups using any form of tobacco than in people not using tobacco. [125, 126] This may be dose-dependent, and the reduced incidence may be limited to heavy smokers. [127]  Tobacco may increase keratinization of the mucosa, which, in turn, may decrease the susceptibility to ulceration. Nicotine, a locally absorbed substance, may play a role in preventing aphthae. Research subjects lose the protective effect when they stop smoking and they may experience rebound ulceration. Despite this, these findings do not justify recommending the use of tobacco or nicotine to control this condition. Other, less harmful treatments are available. Nicotine replacement therapy may help ameliorate lesions that have resulted from cessation of a tobacco habit. [128]

It has been suggested that various foods and environmental triggers have a role in causing or exacerbating recurrent aphthous ulcers. As such, avoidance of these potential triggers (including pineapple, tomato, figs, cheese, and sodium lauryl sulfate) may prevent or reduce the severity of episodes. [62, 63, 64]

Although many patients with recurrent aphthous ulcers have hematinic deficiencies, multivitamins with iron have not been shown to reduce the severity of aphthae or the frequency of ulcer development. [124]