Cold Sore VS. Canker Sore

Maybe you thought they were the same.  Or maybe you thought what caused one surely must cause the other.  What you do know for sure is they both are unsightly and can hurt like the dickens and you just want them to go away as quickly as possible. 

In reality, cold sores and canker sores are not the same thing.  It is important to understand they each have their own unique features and treatment methods of making them disappear.  By learning more about these unwelcomed facial inhabitants, the more likely you can avoid them to begin with.

Canker sores

Canker sores always occur inside the mouth as a white or gray oval shaped area surrounded by a red halo.  Common areas inside the mouth they may appear include the cheek, tongue, or inner lip and even though they are quite painful to the point of making eating and talking difficult, they are not contagious.  They generally range in size from 2-4 millimeters. 

Causes of canker sores

Canker sores have no one single cause and are considered more of an autoimmune condition meaning if you are not taking good care of yourself or feeling run down, you are more likely to develop them.  There can be other various reasons why a canker sore may develop including:

·         Food allergies – especially gluten sensitivity and wheat allergies

·         Nutrient deficiency – vitamin B12, zinc, iron, or folic acid often contribute to canker sores.

·         Stress – often arise during a stressful time

·         Hormonal changes – menstrual cycle, medications, or menopause

·         Tissue damage – eating “sharp” foods such as pretzels, chips or the wearing of braces or accidentally biting the inside of the cheek can cause damage to the mouth’s tissue.

·         Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) – this is an ingredient in toothpaste giving it that foamy, tingly feeling which has been strongly linked to canker sores

·         Acidic foods or too much processed foods – tomato sauce, citrus foods, chocolate, pasta

Treating canker sores

Generally, canker sores if left alone will go away on their own which can take up to two weeks.  There are a few things that may speed up the process or at least help reduce the pain:

·         Avoid any food that is sharp, spicy, acidic or very hot which might include grapefruit, chips, pretzels, alcohol, tomato sauce, coffee, carbonated beverages and nuts.

·         Use a chamomile tea bag to help reduce inflammation and to soothe the pain.  Soak the bag in filtered water and place against the canker sore for several minutes for several times throughout the day.

·         Take ibuprofen for the pain

·         Use topical anesthetics such as Benzocane or other over-the-counter creams to provide relief

·         Topical steroids for pain relief

·         Medications and lasers which your dentist can provide in extreme cases

Preventing canker sores

Some tips on preventing canker sores include using a toothpaste free of SLS, the foaming agent added to them.  Make sure to consume a healthy diet by eating three meals a day including probiotic foods such as yogurt, kefir, miso soup and soybeans. 

Cold Sores

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are found located on or around the lips, mostly outside of the mouth.  Before they make their appearance, a person may notice itching, burning or a tingling sensation around the lips.  Then tiny fluid-filled blisters will appear which eventually break open and crust over. 

Causes of cold sores

Cold sores are caused by the Herpes simplex virus (HSV) which is highly contagious.  The virus is easily spread by sharing utensils or drinking cups, kissing, or touching or shaking hands with someone who has touched their blister.  Around ninety percent of people have had a cold sore at least once in their life which makes the majority of us carriers of the HSV type 1 virus.

An outbreak of cold sores can be brought on by stress, fatigue, suppressed immune system, injury to the mouth area, hormonal changes, sunlight and wind or exposure to extreme conditions.

Treating cold sores

If left alone, a cold sore will take about 2-3 weeks to heal by itself.  But to help speed up the process, there are some other methods a person can try:

 ·         Medication – Zovirax is a popular one to try that attacks the cold sore at its site. Viroxyn and Abreva, and Orajel are other good alternatives to try along with a prescription cream called Denavir.  Ask your doctor or pharmacist for their recommendations.

·         Avoid wearing makeup to cover the cold sore – it will only slow down the healing process.

·         Apply a cold pack of ice directly to the cold sore for temporary relief. It may not reduce the duration of the outbreak but it can ease the pain, discomfort and inflammation associated with it.

Preventing cold sores

·         Protect your lips by using sunblock or chapstick every day as sunlight can trigger cold sores

·         Be aware of not spreading the virus to others by washing your hands frequently and not touching the blisters.  Do not share utensils, cups, or shaking hands with anyone. Avoid letting the fluid in the blister coming into contact with anyone else.

·         If you are around someone with a cold sore, remember they are very contagious. Avoid touching or kissing them and be sure to wash your hands if you do.

·         Practice stress reduction by getting regular exercise, meditation and controlled breathing.