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With the winter season comes many great things, such as family gatherings, holiday parties, and warm drinks by a crackling fire. But for some, the change in weather and stress of the holidays trigger a Christmas card picture’s worst nightmare: a cold sore.

What is a Cold Sore?

cold-soreIf you haven’t had the pleasure (cough, cough) of experiencing a cold sore, consider yourself lucky. But you may be wondering, what are they?

Cold sores are a group of small blisters that form on the lip and around the mouth. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The virus usually enters the body through a break in the skin around the mouth and is spread when a person comes in contact with a cold sore or the infected fluid. This can come from sharing razors, kissing someone who has a cold sore, sharing a drink with someone who suffers from a cold sore, or touching that person’s saliva.

What are the Symptoms of a Cold Sore?

The first signs of a cold sore may be:

  • Pain or tingling around the mouth or on the lips
  • Hard lump underneath the skin
  • Blisters, which usually break open and leak clear fluid
  • Fever
  • Pain and/or swelling around the affected area

Symptoms may last for as little as a few days or as long as two weeks.

How Can a Cold Sore be Treated?

Cold sores can be treated through a variety of methods, including skin creams and ointments, and sometimes antiviral medicine, such as Valtrex. But more recently, there have been treatments that your dentist can help you with to relieve pain and infection involved with cold sores.

Many dentists can treat cold sores with a special laser therapy that treats the soft tissue and more effectively helps to stop the spread of the virus. If you are able to get a laser treatment when you first notice symptoms, you may only suffer from the unsightly blister for as little as 2-3 days.

If you experience cold sores, you might consider making an appointment with your dentist to talk about the benefits of laser treatment.

What About Canker Sores?

They are uncomfortable, annoying, and often painful, and most of us have experienced them at least once. Canker sores are shallow sores in the mouth that are usually red or in some cases may have a white coating over them. But the main questions are what causes them and how to treat them?

Causes of Canker Sores

The exact causes of canker sores are not clearly defined. Simple canker sores are thought to be a result of stress or tissue injury. In some cases, the culprits tend to be certain foods, mostly citrus and/or acidic fruits and vegetables. They can also be triggered by stress, fatigue, hormones or facial trauma. In cases of complex canker sores, the cause is usually an underlying health condition, most often an issue with the immune system or nutritional problems.

Canker Sores are not Cold Sores

Even though they are often confused between each other, canker sores and cold sores are two totally different conditions. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, and unlike canker sores, they are very contagious. They are also located on and around the lips, primarily outside of the mouth, while canker sores appear inside the mouth and on the gums. Visually they differ significantly, cold sores being red, fluid-filled blisters, typically showing up in groups.


Canker sores will usually heal on their own within a week or two. In more complex cases visiting your dentist would be a good idea. They may prescribe an antimicrobial mouth rinse or a corticosteroid ointment, and in cases of more severe pain, they can write a prescription or give an over-the-counter solution to reduce the pain and irritation.

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