What is a Cold Sore?
Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex virus type one (HSV-1). The virus lives in your nerves but damages your skin. It causes sores around the face, usually the lips, that last about one week. In rare cases, cold sores can appear on other parts of your body.
The virus spreads easily by coming in contact with the skin or bodily fluids of an individual with HSV-1. About two-thirds of people carry the HSV-1 infection, but some of them develop cold sores. The combination of a specific genetic component and a trigger (like fever, stress, or too much sun) leads to outbreaks.
Many people experience tingling, burning, or itching sensations prior to an outbreak. The site of the outbreak swells and reddens prior to the appearance of blisters. When the blisters pop, they form cold sores. Eventually, the sores will scab or crust over. Once the crust falls away, the sore is healed.
HSV-1 can be managed but not cured. Prescription antiviral creams can shorten limit the duration of an outbreak, and over-the-counter creams can help with the symptoms.
Though contagious, cold sores are not usually dangerous. However, there are some rare cases that necessitate a visit to a medical professional.
- Your cold sore lasts more than one week without crusting over.
- The cold sore interferes with your ability to speak or swallow.
- Your outbreak is accompanied by a fever.
- You experience a second outbreak of blisters.
What is a Canker Sore?
Canker sores appear on the inside of the mouth and they vary in size. Several factors, like an injury or stress, can cause a canker sore to appear. They vary in size and can occur on the gums, insides of the cheeks or lips, on the tongue, or the roof of the mouth.
It generally takes a week or two for canker sores to heal. Smaller canker sores usually go away on their own with minimal discomfort. Larger canker sores tend to be more painful and may be soothed by over-the-counter creams and gels or prescription treatments, like mouthwashes.
What is the Difference Between Cold Sores and Canker Sores?
Cold sores and canker sores are sometimes used interchangeably because they look and feel alike. However, canker sores and cold sores differ in a few notable ways.
- Cold sores are caused by HSV-1 while canker sores occur due to other conditions.
- The virus that causes cold sores is contagious, but canker sores are not.
- Cold sores appear on the face, usually around the mouth. Canker sores only occur inside the mouth.
Can I Go to the Dentist with a Cold Sore?
Should you go to the dentist with a cold sore? In most cases, no, you should cancel and reschedule your appointment. Since cold sores are caused by a highly contagious virus, there is a risk of spreading it to other people when you have an active outbreak.
It may seem far-fetched that a small sore on your upper lip could cause problems, but until that sore has scabbed and crusted over, the underlying virus is active. Even the most innocent exchange, like touching your mouth and then using a pen or doorknob could pass on the virus.
While you may be afraid to cancel, your dental team will appreciate your concern for their well-being. Contact the office and be honest about your reason for canceling. Keep in mind, cold sores usually last a week or two, so reschedule far enough out to give yourself time to heal.
If you have questions or concerns about cold sores, the team at Jefferson Dental Care can answer them. Contact the clinic nearest you to make an appointment. We’re here to help you keep your mouth healthy!