As the weather gets colder, you’re more likely to get canker and cold sores. These two conditions are commonly mistaken for one another.
Although they’re not the same, both canker sores and cold sores have similar triggers and treatments. It’s important to understand the difference between canker sores and cold sores so you can effectively treat them. But if we break it down, we see that they are two different conditions, with similar causes.
Your mouth is an incredible measure of the health of your body’s immune system. Let’s take a closer look at the differences so you can find relief faster.
What Are Canker Sores?
Canker sores are small, painful lesions that develop on the soft tissues of your mouth or at the base of your gums. Canker sores, also called aphthous lesions or mouth ulcers, don’t usually appear on the outside of the mouth and they aren’t contagious.
Canker sores normally heal on their own within one or two weeks. However, you should consult your dentist or doctor if you have chronically occurring canker sores or an abnormally large canker sore that doesn’t heal on its own.
Canker sores are shaped like a circle or oval, are yellow or white in color, and have a red border. The places they form in the mouth are different for each person. Canker sores most often show up:
- Under your tongue
- Inside your cheek or lip
- At the base of your gum line
- Anywhere on your soft tissue palate
Having an irritated sore on sensitive parts of your mouth often causes pain while eating, drinking, and talking. The pain of an active canker sore is rarely intolerable but is often extremely annoying.
There are three different classifications of canker sores: minor canker sores (the most common), major canker sores, and herpetiform canker sores. Major canker sores are the same as minor canker sores except they are larger, deeper, more painful, and take longer to heal.
Herpetiform canker sores usually develop later in life and are about the size of a pinpoint. Despite the name, they’re actually not caused by the herpes virus infection. They develop in clusters ranging from 10 to 100 and sometimes they all merge together.
Both major and herpetiform canker sores are rare while minor canker sores occur quite often.
Determining the cause of a canker sore is a frustrating guessing game. The exact nature of canker sores isn’t clear, although many determining factors have been identified. These include:
- A minor injury in your mouth (aggressive brushing, cheek bite, sports accident, etc.)
- Oral hygiene products like toothpaste or mouthwash that contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
- A diet deficient in zinc, folic acid, iron, or Vitamin B-12
- An allergic reaction to particular bacteria in your mouth
- Emotional/Hormonal stress
- Food sensitivities
Certain diseases such as Celiac or HIV/AIDS have been known to provoke canker sores. Researchers assume that canker sores are caused by a combination of factors and triggers within an individual.
How to cure and prevent canker sores
Canker sores have no defined root cause, making it discouragingly difficult to anticipate their arrival. But you may experience a tingling or burning feeling in your mouth a day or two before one appears. Anyone can develop canker sores but females and adolescents are more prone to getting them.
Take these steps to possibly prevent canker sores from occurring:
- Avoid triggering food: Avoid foods that irritate your mouth such as, certain spices, acidic fruits, spicy food, and salty food.
- Eat healthily: Choose to eat a diet that contains all your necessary nutrients. Fill your plate with plenty veggies, which are fiber and phytonutrient rich.
- Add fat-soluble vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E, and K2 are great for boosting your immune system and helping your body naturally rid itself of both canker and cold sores.
- Practice excellent oral hygiene: Brush twice a day and floss at least once a day. Maintain regular visits to the dentist.
- Manage your stress: Learn how to cope in high-stress situations by practicing meditation or listening to relaxing music. Reducing stress-levels not only prevents canker sores, but you’ll end up a little happier, too!
- Sleep better: your immune system’s time to replenish is when you sleep! If you suffering from day-time tiredness or poor sleep you might need some tips to improve your sleep.
Home Remedies for Canker Sores
There are simple home remedies for canker sores that help with pain, speed up healing time, and prevention.
- Apply honey to your canker sore.
- Apply ice or something cold to your canker sore.
- Dab milk of magnesia on your canker sore.
- Rinse your mouth with warm salt water.
- Rinse your mouth with a mixture of baking soda and warm water.
- Brush your teeth with caution and care.
Most minor canker sores don’t require medical treatment. However, major canker sores and certain incidents of recurring canker sores, do require attention from a doctor.
- A mouth rinse, usually one containing dexamethasone
- A topical product, with active numbing ingredients like benzocaine or hydrogen peroxide
- A medication, such as an oral steroid medication
These medications only deal with the symptoms of canker sores. In certain situations, it may be necessary but remember that canker sores can be controlled through a strong immune system.
Try immune system boosting techniques such as increasing your vitamin D levels before opting for strong medications.
What Are Cold Sores?
Cold sores, or fever blisters, are small fluid-filled sores that usually occur in clusters. These painful blisters often appear on the nose, lips, or anywhere around the mouth.
You might feel a tingling sensation on your skin before a cold sore appears and in about two days the cold sore is developed. Later, it breaks and oozes, leaving a crust-like layer over the blister. Unfortunately, they take two to four weeks to heal, leaving you with an unattractive scab on the affected area.
A cold sore passes through three stages of development:
- Tingling, itching, burning- Often, people will feel a cold sore coming on one or two days before it actually appears.
- Blisters- A breakout occurs and small clusters of blisters form on various areas of the face.
- Crusting, scabbing, oozing- Cold sores may merge and burst, which leaves shallow open sores that crust over.
First-time outbreaks can involve other symptoms such as headache, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches, and a sore throat.
Causes of cold sores
A cold sore is a common viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV, HSV-1 causes cold sores and HSV-2 causes genital herpes. Both of these viruses are extremely contagious, especially when the blisters are open.
Once the cold sore virus has invaded your system, it never leaves. The virus may lie dormant for a long period of time or it may cause frequent reoccurring cold sores. There are certain triggers that can provoke cold sores to recur, such as:
- Harsh wind or sunlight
- Hormonal changes
Cold sores are the product of a common viral infection, not related to the common cold as the name suggests. Once you acquire HSV-1, you’ll always be susceptible to getting cold sores for the rest of your life. However, some people are more prone to them than others and your environment can also play a part in triggering cold sores.
How to prevent or cure cold sores
Cold sores are extremely contagious but there are ways to protect and prevent picking up this virus. Here are some tips for cold sore prevention:
- Don’t engage in physical contact with someone currently suffering from an outbreak
- Ramp up your immune system and maintain excellent immune system health
- Monitor vitamin D levels
- Eat a diet rich in fat-soluble vitamins
- Always keep your hands clean
- Avoid sharing personal items (utensils, towels, lip balm, etc.)
- Avoid triggering a cold sore by:
- Practicing stress reduction coping skills
- Staying out of excessive sunlight exposure
- Limiting your cosmetic dermatologic procedures (lasers, peels, etc.)
It’s nearly impossible not to obtain HSV-1 – it’s estimated that 90 percent of adults test positive for the cold sore virus, even if they’ve never shown signs of an outbreak.
Most cold sores are painful and the healing process lingers. In the meantime, you can practice these holistic techniques to ease the pain and speed up healing time.
- No hands: don’t touch your cold sore as it can dry it out or cause a bacterial infection.
Apply something cold: an ice cube will ease the pain and reduce swelling.
- Licorice extract: mix petroleum jelly with this natural extract and apply to the area for a speedy recovery.
- Aloe Vera: this soothes inflammation while also moisturizing the cold sore.
- Take your Vitamins: Vitamin-E aids the body with skin cell production and Vitamin-C can boost levels of white cells, which fight off viral infections.
- Take it easy: take small bites when eating and avoid any aggressive movements that could break open your cold sore.
Getting a cold sore is very common and although they’re annoying, they’re usually tolerable. Over the counter medications can aid in healing and provide pain relief.
If your cold sores are unbearably painful or recurring, consult a doctor for medical advice. In extreme cases, your doctor may recommend a prescription medication that attempts to fight the virus.
Canker Sores vs. Cold Sores: Identify Your Ailment
To tell the difference between a canker sore and a cold sore, there are certain attributes to look for. Canker sores appear on the soft tissues inside the mouth, while a cold sore usually shows up on the outside of the mouth. A canker sore is an ulcer and a cold sore is a blister.
Also, canker sores aren’t contagious but cold sores are very contagious. It’s essential to analyze and identify your condition in order to have the best treatment possible.
Canker and cold sores have characteristics that distinguish one from the other. Finding out whether you have a canker sore or a cold sore is the first step towards a more effective treatment.
But remember, both canker sores and cold sores are two different conditions that signal your immune system is low.
Your immune system is ultimately controlled by your diet. In The Dental Diet I’ll show you how to manage your mouth and body for full-body health and prevent sickness!
Share this article with someone who could benefit from learning more about canker and cold sores!
Want to know more? Dr. Steven Lin’s book, The Dental Diet, is available to order today. An exploration of ancestral medicine, the human microbiome and epigenetics it’s a complete guide to the mouth-body connection. Take the journey and the 40-day delicious food program for life-changing oral and whole health.
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