Cold Sores and Canker Sores…

What’s the Difference?

Although cold sores and canker sores are often confused for each other, they are not the same. They are two of the most unwelcome oral problems patients develop.

 Cold sores: Cold sores are often called fever blisters. They are small groups of blisters that form on the outside of the lip and mouth. These blisters may rupture and fluid may leak out. Within a few days, the cold sore will scab over, with the entire process taking about 10 days. Cold sores can be brought on by sunburn, fever, stress and many other things.

 Cold sores are caused by a virus called the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV that we see in the oral region, HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-2 is often implicated in genital herpes, but today we see it commonly in the oral region too. HSV can enter the body very easily from a mother's kiss, unclean utensils or touching another person's infected saliva. Once infected, the virus has the ability to reoccur any time in that person. Thus, once you have had your first cold sore outbreak, you may continue to have them for many years.

 Cold sores can start with a tingling or burning around your lips and mouth. During this initial onset, they are very treatable and, if a medication like Denavir or Abreva is applied, the cold sore may not form at all. If the cold sore continues to form, early application of these medications will lessen the duration and the size of the affected area will be reduced. The key to treating cold sores is to get the anti-viral cream applied early and often. For some people, cold sores can be very painful. It is important to note that cold sores are very easily spread from site to site. If someone were to rub a cold sore that was active and then rub their eye or nose, the virus may spread and become a very nasty eye or nose infection. Remember to keep your hands away from the site and if you do touch it, make sure to wash thoroughly.

 Canker sores: Unlike cold sores, canker sores don't occur on the surface of your lips and aren't contagious. Canker sores occur on the internal surface of the mouth and often are a result of trauma. The medical term is an "apthous ulcer." Canker sores typically do not form blisters like cold sores, but actually form a crater, or ulceration. Canker sores are caused by streptococcus bacteria. Apthous ulcers are typically small and can form in clusters. However, some apthous ulcers can become the size of a dime and are called apthous major ulcerations. They are very painful for most people and have a seven to 10 day duration. Fortunately, they typically heal on their own.

 Treatment for canker sores can range from common salt water rinses to a prescription medication called Lidex. Lidex is very effective if applied early. Prevention is really the key for canker sores. Having your teeth professionally cleaned every six months can reduce the amount of bacteria and lessen the occurrence of canker sores. Foods like chocolate, nuts and grains can make canker sores occur and increase the pain in individuals who already have a canker sore present. There are some toothpastes which are available over the counter specifically designed for canker sore sufferers which claim an 80% reduction in outbreaks. Simply changing toothpastes and not having too much chocolate works wonders for preventing canker sores! If you already have a canker sore, it will resolve on its own. But if it is too uncomfortable, your dentist may apply an agent called Debacterol, which will immediately eliminate any discomfort and speed the healing time dramatically.