Many people get canker sores and cold sores confused, but if you’ve had one or the other, you likely know the difference! While these mouth sores are relatively similar, they’re caused by different things and one of them is very contagious! So what’s what with canker sores and cold sores, and how do they affect our oral health?
Cold Sores—Outside the Mouth
Cold sores take the form of a red, sometimes large-looking, blister that is often referred to as a “fever blister”. Indeed, these sores can cause fever, swollen lymph nodes, and even a headache. These sores are always outside of the mouth, usually on the edge of your lip. Cold sores are caused by the Type 1 herpes simplex virus, which is different from the Type 2 herpes virus, which is also referred to as genital herpes, passed along through sexual contact. Type 1 herpes virus is highly contagious and can be passed along simply through touching the cold sore, kissing, sharing drinks or food, and any other contact with it. Once you have this Type 1 herpes virus, it doesn’t go away, but the good news is that your cold sores will come and go and are not destined to stay long.
The cold sore may be oozing a clear fluid and will likely scab over after a time. They can be pretty painful in addition to the other symptoms that they cause, but the good news is they don’t last long and should be totally gone after a two-week period. While there are some over-the-counter treatments available, the truth is that cold sores will just have to go away on their own. If your cold sore is still hanging around after two weeks, it may be time to visit the doctor!
Canker sores are always inside your mouth, but their position in your mouth will vary. They could be along your tongue, on your inner upper lip, lower lip, or on the side of your mouth. Wherever they are in your mouth, they are usually pretty painful for their size. They are typically small sores that are gray, yellow, or white with a red, irritated-looking ring around it. These are usually open sores and while not contagious, can be pretty annoying. It’s not known what causes canker sores, but stress, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, food allergies, and even hormones have been thought to play a role in their existence. Like cold sores, a canker sore will need to heal on its own, and the pain usually goes away after a few days and the entire sore should be gone after a week or two. Again, if it sticks around, you’ll likely need to visit your doctor to make sure nothing else is going on. Canker sores can also cause symptoms like that of cold sores—swollen lymph nodes or a fever.
Maintaining your oral health can help you avoid a canker sore, but cold sores may be more apt to appear on their own regardless of your oral health. Minimizing sharing of food and drinks with others and monitor your canker sore or cold sore to ensure it heals on its own.