While cold sores and canker sores are often confused for one another, there are fundamental differences in where they appear, what causes them and how to treat them. Knowing these differences can help to dramatically reduce the time that symptoms are present.

Cold sores are the more common of the two and are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). HSV-1 is a very common virus and it is estimated that over 90% of adults will have come into contact with it in their lifetimes. Symptoms usually come in the form of small, red blisters that appear on or near the lips. These blisters eventually break and dry up, usually within 1-2 weeks. After the illness runs its course symptoms will subside but the virus will remain dormant in the central nervous system until it is reactivated. Some patients may never show symptoms again while others can have cold sores return several times a year.

Cold sores can be triggered by a number of things such as stress, sunlight, other infections and fatigue. Identifying triggers for yourself can help in reducing the recurrence of cold sores. While over-the-counter topical anesthetics can provide some relief, cold sores tend to heal by themselves. Your dentist may also prescribe antiviral drugs to reduce these kinds of infections.

Canker sores are small ulcers with a white or gray base and red border. They are frequently painful and sensitive and are usually found on the tongue, the inside lining of the lips and cheeks and at the base of gums. Although canker sores are very common and often reoccur they usually heal in a week or two. Since canker sores are an open wound they are prone to bacterial infection and irritation which can delay healing. Mild mouth washes such as salt water or non-alcoholic mouth washes may aid in oral hygiene and increase comfort. Over-the-counter topical ointments can also provide relief. We recommended using a soft toothbrush, avoiding spicy foods, reducing your daily stress and maintaining a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of canker sores.