It's a Sore Spot: How to Handle Canker and Cold Sores

Posted on December 17, 2013 in General oral health

There's no denying it: Canker and cold sores can be a pain. Here's what they are – and how to deal with them.

A canker sore is a small ulcer inside the mouth that typically goes away in about a week. Not much is known about the cause of canker sores, but stress and fatigue are at the top of the suspect list. Canker sores can be treated with various over-the-counter topical ointments that can be purchased at the local drugstore. These topical ointments coat the ulcer or temporarily deaden the pain so you can eat with some comfort. Regardless of what you use though, the sores will probably be around for at least a week.

Cold sores are fluid-filled blisters that can appear inside or outside the mouth. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and are very contagious. Cold sore outbreaks vary in severity between people, so sometimes someone might not even notice that they had one, while others experience very painful cold sores. Because the virus stays in the body even after the cold sore goes away, it has the potential to pop up again. You can manage it by doing your best to stay healthy and avoid situations that lead to new sores. Some events that trigger new cold sores include getting a fever or other illness, becoming too stressed, and heavy sun exposure. If you do get a flare up, consult a doctor about your options, including antiviral drugs and ointments. Normally, cold sores go away in seven to ten days, which is why many people simply wait them out.

You can help stop the spread of HSV-1 by being careful and staying informed about what it means to have the disease. Children often get the virus unknowingly from a family member or friend by sharing eating utensils, lip balms, or coming into physical contact with someone who is infected, whether or not their sores are visible. Avoid kissing someone if they have visible cold sores. Contact a doctor or dentist if you have an outbreak of cold sores, and stay informed about what you can do to minimize the risk of passing them on.