Canker sores (aphthous ulcers) are often confused with fever blisters (cold sores). However, they are quite different.
Canker sores only form inside the mouth on the gums, cheeks, tongue or floor of the mouth and cannot be transmitted from one individual to another. They begin as small red circular swellings that usually ulcerate [rupture] within a day, after which they become white, surrounded by reddish inflammation and last for 8-10 days.
As open sores, they can be very painful to the touch. Canker sores afflict about 20% of the population. Their cause has yet to be discovered, although they appear to breakout more in stressful situations, from getting a small “nick” in the skin [mucous membrane] or from foods such as citrus fruits and tomatoes.
While they can occur in very young children, canker sores usually manifest themselves in people between the ages of 10-20. It’s not uncommon for them to erupt three to four times a year, but they occur less frequently, or stop all together, in adulthood.
If you have canker sores, avoid rough textured or spicy foods, which irritate them. Try not to touch them with eating utensils or your toothbrush. Apply ointment that contains a topical anesthetic or some other active ingredient that will relieve the irritation.
Cold sores form outside the mouth, usually on the lips, but they may appear on the chin, outside of the cheek or the nostrils. They begin as a red blister, burst and crust over and last for 7-14 days.
Cold sores – caused by the herpes simplex virus (type 1) – are contagious; they transmit by skin-to-skin contact. The virus, carried by almost everyone, is dormant most of the time. Fever blisters occur most often in young adults and adolescents and decline in people over 35 years of age. Certain factors activate its outbreak, particularly stress, colds, fevers and/or sunburn.
To reduce occurrences, avoid kissing when the blisters are visible. Also, don’t squeeze or scrape the blister. Wash your hands thoroughly before touching someone else and use UV sunscreen on your lips before spending time in the sun.
Treatment of cold sores includes avoiding spicy and hot foods that will irritate them, application of phenol-containing over-the-counter ointments and administration of some anti-viral antibiotics that will shorten their duration (but not prevent their outbreak).
If you’re worried about canker or cold sores, call our office. We’re here to help you deal with these common afflictions and will offer additional treatment recommendations, as necessary.