Canker Sores and Cold Sores

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Canker Sores and Cold Sores

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Midtown Dentistry

Houston, Texas


People are often confused about canker sores and cold sores, but in fact they are quite different. Knowing how can help make them easier to treat, minimizing the length and severity of an outbreak.


Canker sores can occur on the soft tissues in your mouth, inside the cheeks. They can also occur on the soft palate right at the back of the roof of your mouth, or on your tongue. They’re more likely to occur in people aged between 10 and 20, and will last anywhere up to a week. Canker sores are not contagious.

The exact cause of canker sores isn’t really known, but some people may find an outbreak is prompted by eating certain foods, especially acidic foods. They can sometimes be caused through having ill-fitting dental appliances such as braces or dentures, or through having a sharp tooth surface. They are also associated with having a vitamin deficiency, or are more likely to be found in people with an impaired immune system, or in those who have gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease.

Typical symptoms of canker sores can include:

  • Noticing you have a tingling or burning sensation before the sore develops
  • You might notice you have sores in your mouth that are white or grey, and which have a red border
  • Canker sores can make you feel unwell, and you may develop a fever, swollen lymph nodes or will just feel slightly under the weather


The pain from a canker sore can persist for several days, but most will heal up without treatment within a week or two. If they are especially persistent then it is worth contacting your dentist at Midtown Dentistry as they might be able to prescribe a mouth rinse or ointment that will help, and will check any dental appliances are fitting correctly.

You need to seek medical help if the sores fail to heal within two or three weeks, if the pain is intolerable, if you develop a high fever, or if you have difficulty drinking sufficient fluids.


Cold sores or fever blisters are quite different and occur outside the mouth, and contrary to their name have nothing to do with the common cold. They are typically found around the lips or chin, or just underneath the nose. Cold sores are highly contagious as they are caused by the herpes simplex type I virus although occasionally they may be caused by the herpes simplex type II virus. Cold sores or blisters that will eventually break open and crust over, and they can last anywhere between 7 to 10 days. They remain contagious until they are crusted completely over.

An attack can be triggered by stress, but it can also be due to exposure to sunlight or having a fever, or even menstruation. Some people will be unlucky enough to develop cold sores every month while others will only have an attack once or twice a year. Sufferers often notice the skin becomes red or irritated prior to an outbreak. Afterwards blisters will form before bursting and crusting over as the healing process begins.


During an outbreak it is best avoid direct contact with others, and to avoid sharing items such as toothbrushes, towels or cutlery and crockery. Sufferers need to be careful to avoid touching the cold sore, and to wash their hands after doing so as it is possible for the virus to spread from one part of the body to another. There is no cure for cold sores, although there are various over-the-counter creams that can help shorten an attack if applied at the first sign of tingling. It’s also possible to get prescription medications to help speed up healing times. These usually need to be taken before the cold sore is fully developed.

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