March 28, 2017
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Causes of Mouth Sores, Cold Sores, and Canker Sores

Mouth sores are not fun. They can be painful and unsightly. There are many different kinds of mouth sores that can be caused by any number of things, including fungal infections, viral infections, bacterial infections, ill-fitting dentures, sharp edges of broken teeth or fillings or loose orthodontic wire from braces, just to name a few.

The two most common mouth sores are canker sores and cold sores.

Canker Sores

Canker sores are ulcers that appear inside your mouth, usually on the tongue, lips, gum line, throat or on the inside of your cheeks. They have a white middle and a red border. There is no definite cause to canker sores. A few experts think that these are caused by viruses, bacteria or immune system problems.

Canker sores are not contagious and usually heal by themselves in one or two weeks. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics and antimicrobial mouth washes may be prescribed for temporary relief. We recommend avoiding spicy, hot or acidic foods as these can irritate the sores. The prevention of secondary infections can be done through antibiotics and oral bandages.  

Cold Sores

Cold sores are different from canker sores in many ways with the biggest differences being that cold sores appear on the outside of your mouth and are very contagious. Cold sores can also be called fever blisters or herpes. They are groups of painful, red, raised blisters that usually appear around the lips, and under the nose or chin. These blisters can cause painful lesions that can erupt.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes type 1 virus. They generally don’t pose serious health problems, but are very contagious. The herpes virus is spread through saliva and direct skin contact. The vast majority of people with the herpes virus first contracted the virus via infections in childhood. These infections include symptoms similar to those of a cold or flu including fever, headache, nausea, vomiting sore throat and painful, open mouth sores. The herpes stays within a person forever as there is no cure. It typically stays dormant for many years. When it gets active, that is when cold sores, or fever blisters, appear.

Cold sores usually “crust” in 4 days and completely heal in 10 days. To help speed up the healing and reduce the pain of cold sores, some medications may be prescribed. The most common medicines include acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir) and valacyclovir (Valtrex). Though these medications can’t get rid of the herpes virus, it can help prevent the oncoming cold sores.

Besides medication, there are some preventative measures you can take to avoid a cold sore outbreak. Keep the affected area clean and don’t touch the affected area, which means no picking at the crusts over the sores. Avoid kissing and sharing utensils, glasses and towels.

Though cold sores are generally not a health concern, they can be dangerous to those with a weakened immune system. Cold sores may be a cause for concern if:

  • Lip or mouth sores persist longer than one week
  • The sores make it hard for you to talk or swallow
  • You develop a fever
  • You have a second outbreak of blisters

There are many different mouth sores, but the most common are canker sores and cold sores. Bacterial infections, cuts, viral infections, fungal infections, and ill-fitting dental mouth ware are common causes to many mouth sores. We can help you avoid many common mouth sores through a wide range of preventative and metal-free dental services.