Chances are, you’ve experienced some type of sore or abrasion in or near your mouth at some point in time. But how can you tell if what you’re experiencing is a cold sore or a canker sore? And why is it crucial to spot the difference?
For starters, cold sores and canker sores present themselves in two different areas. A sore inside of the mouth is typically a canker sore. Canker sores are white and round in appearance and tend to be surrounded by an inflamed red halo. A cold sore, however, is external; this type of sore will appear on or near the lips. Cold sores, unlike canker sores, are fluid-filled blisters.
It’s important that you can differentiate between canker sores and cold sores so that you can properly treat (and not aggravate) whichever of the two you’re dealing with. Furthermore, people with cold sores should be aware that these little lesions are highly contagious – which is nice to know before sharing a smooch with your significant other! Now that you know how to tell the difference between the two pesky problems, we’ll explore ways to treat and prevent both cold sores and cankers.
Canker Sore Causes
Canker sores, known in the medical community as aphthous ulcers, are typically caused by some sort of irritation. Sometimes, the source of the irritation can be traced back to certain foods. Both food allergies and very acidic foods, such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, and highly processed items, can trigger a canker sore.
Other times, the irritation which creates a canker sore is caused by trauma to the mouth. In other words, injuring the tissue by poking it with something sharp, even your own tooth, can cause a canker sore.
And finally, many people find that they are sensitive to sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is found in many types of toothpaste. This ingredient is also used to clean floors and toilets and can be too harsh for your mouth, even in small amounts. If you aren’t sure what’s causing your canker sores, try switching to a toothpaste without SLS for a while – there are many options available.
Canker Sore Treatment
First, stay away from anything which will further irritate the sore, including harsh mouthwashes, hydrogen peroxide, and acidic foods. You can swish with a saltwater rinse to speed up the healing process or, if the sore you’re suffering from is really severe, your dentist can prescribe a topical treatment. It’s also not a bad idea to take a couple of ibuprofen for the pain and inflammation, just keep in mind that this medication will not heal the wound any faster. Canker sores have also been linked to stress, so remember to relax.
Lastly, you may want to take a look at your diet in order to prevent further canker sores. According to some studies, nutrition deficiencies play a role in the development of these lesions. While there isn’t enough literature yet to provide solid evidence to back this idea, getting a sufficient amount of vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and folic acid is always a smart move.
Cold Sore Causes
Cold sores, also called “fever blisters,” only affect people who are carrying the HSV-1 virus, which is different than the virus which causes genital herpes. Unfortunately, HSV-1 is pretty common, and a large portion of adults in the U.S. are already carrying the virus. Most of the time, people with HSV-1 don’t exhibit any visible symptoms. When cold sore blisters appear, the patient is having an outbreak. HSV-1 outbreaks can be caused by a variety of triggers, including:
- Hormonal changes
- A suppressed immune system
- Sun and wind irritation
Cold Sore Treatment
You should feel comfortable talking to your dentist about your cold sores; remember that the HSV-1 virus is extremely common in patients regardless of whether or not they are sexually active. Your dentist can prescribe a topical remedy, such as Viroxyn or Denavir, for your cold sore so you can heal – and feel like yourself again – faster. Ask your dentist to recommend the anti-viral medication that’s best for you; these treatments have been proven to fight cold sores and are available by prescription only. Ice and ibuprofen can both help with the pain, but they won’t force the cold sore to heal faster.
In order to avoid future cold sores, protect yourself from the elements by using sunblock or a lip balm with an spf. Also remember that HSV-1 outbreaks can be triggered by stress and fatigue, so make sure that you are getting sufficient rest and taking time for relaxation. And, if you are having an outbreak, be considerate of others. Make sure that you wash your hands frequently and avoid touching the blister and spreading the virus. Don’t share cups, eating utensils, lip balm, or toothbrushes with others.
You can, however, share your concerns with us! We’re here to help keep you healthy and would love to help you answer any questions.