Cold Sore and Your Oral Health

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As you stare into the mirror, you notice the cold sore on your lip. You also realize you have your next cleaning with your dentist coming up shortly. You have had these sores in the past and know that it is a cold sore. As you might be aware, the virus that causes cold sores is incredibly contagious. So what do you do?

Once a sore has broken out in any part, your body will usually start making antibodies. This happens so that you do not get another infection. Despite this, some of the sores can return. 

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Is your smile important to you? And you would not want to put that at risk. So the question is – is your visit worth the potential to spread the virus? The answer is no, at least not most of the time. Read below to find out more about cold sores and their impact on your dental health.

What is a Cold Sore?

As you may already know, cold sores are a group of painful, tiny blisters caused by the herpes simplex virus. They are also known as HSV. The symptoms you might experience are usually the most severe if you have them for the first time.

Sores usually appear on the outside of your lips and mouth. But it is also possible for them to show up on the nose area and cheeks. Certain things could trigger an outbreak to occur. These include specific foods, stress, fever, cold, and allergies. Dental work or cosmetic surgery could also trigger a sore.

A cold sore outbreak is just like any common blister for most people. But you need to be mindful to prevent its spread. The spread of HSV often occurs from kissing someone who has the virus. The infection could spread by sharing eating utensils, razors, and towels. Some people with compromised immune systems might need extra care if they develop a cold sore.

What Causes Cold Sores?

Cold sores are sometimes called oral herpes because they are primarily caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 or HSV-1. This virus is common and highly contagious. 

The virus spreads through saliva or close contact with others through kissing or by sharing utensils, towels, straws, or lip balm with someone who has already had a sore.

Initially, you might not know if you have been infected with HSV-1, probably because symptoms of exposure to sores are generally mild. Children sometimes develop small blisters and have fever inside and around their mouths when they are first exposed to the virus.

The Impact of Cold Sore on Oral Health

Any virus in your body can create several problems, especially when it comes to oral health. The sores that erupted are often painful. They can disrupt your regular oral health routine. Hence it is essential to keep your teeth and gums healthy. 

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These sores can also prevent an individual from following a healthy diet. This could deprive your teeth and gums of the nutrients they need for good health.

When the herpes is inside your mouth, it can cause damage to the soft tissue of the gums. Thus causing your teeth and gums to separate. In the long run, it could also create gaps where bacteria can grow. Hence leading to problems like gum disease.

It has been noticed that many people suffer from recurring bouts with sores. This can cause them to ignore tasks they need to do for good oral health regularly. That is why you need to seek treatment for oral herpes whenever you have an eruption.

Should You Keep Your Appointment When You Have a Cold Sore?

Knowing the high transmissibility of cold sore, is it wise to go to your dentist? The best thing to do is to call your dentist and ask. But most likely, you will be asked to come back at a different time

Even though your dentist wears gloves while examining you, it is still quite possible to spread this highly contagious virus. Before the healing process, the stage that the cold sore goes through is the most contagious.

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Most dentists, however, will begin seeing patients with oral sores once the healing process has started. It is at that stage that the sore will begin to scab. Some individuals might experience pain from the dried-out sores even after that stage.

It is hard to keep your mouth open for an extended period during the healing process. It is perfectly normal, and your dentist would understand if you needed to wait longer or make another appointment for the scab to fall off entirely.

Remember that these sores can quickly spread to your dentist. It is usually best to talk with your dentist to plan rescheduling your appointment once your cold sore has subsided. You may want to ensure the safety and health of others present at your dentist’s office. It would be best to determine where you are in the healing process and call your dentist to see what they think.

Are Cold Sores Contagious?

While cold sores are highly contagious, they are usually not serious. In healthy people, sores generally clear up on their own in one to two weeks.

So, how common are sores? Cold sores are widespread and can occur anytime to anyone. More than half of the population has been infected with the virus that causes cold sores. About 20 to 40 percent of people who have the virus could also develop cold sores.

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How often can you get sores? A sore may develop multiple times a year. Or it might occur only once or twice in your lifetime. The frequency of a sore outbreak varies from one person to the other. 

Who is generally affected by cold sores? Individuals of all ages can become infected with the virus that causes sores. But many people might get exposed to the virus during childhood. It is even possible to develop a cold sore at any age, though the chance of having a sore outbreak decreases after 35 years.

What are the Symptoms of Cold Sores?

For most people, the signs and symptoms are more severe the first time they develop a sore. When you have a cold sore outbreak, you may notice these:

  1. The first sign of a cold sore is generally an itching, tingling, or burning sensation on or around your upper or lower lips. These symptoms are noticed 12-24 hours before the oral sore develops.
  2. The area becomes swollen, red, and painful as the blisters erupt.
  3. Over 2 to 3 days, the blisters rupture, and you will notice fluid oozing out that is clear or slightly yellow. This is sometimes called the “weeping phase.”
  4. The blister crusts and scabs over about 4 to 5 days after the sore appears. The sore might crack or bleed as it starts to heal.
  5. After a few days, the scab then falls off, revealing new skin that might be a little more reddish or pink than usual. It usually takes 1 or 2 weeks for the sore to heal completely.

What Triggers a Cold Sore?

Once infected with the HSV-1 virus, note that the virus will never go away. It will remain dormant or inactive in a group of nerve cells in your face called the trigeminal ganglion.

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When these dormant viruses are triggered or activated, it “wakes up” and becomes active in the future. The viruses will then travel through your nerves to your lips, where a cold sore will again develop. After an outbreak, the virus will again go back to sleep in your body. This sounds interesting, right!

Surprisingly, what triggers a cold sore in one individual might not cause an outbreak in another person. Some individuals with HSV-1 never develop a cold sore.

Various factors, including: can activate a cold sore:

  • Hormonal changes that occur during menstruation or pregnancy.
  • Sunburn.
  • Exposure to extreme temperatures (hot or cold).
  • Stress could be physical or emotional. 
  • Fever and illness, such as cold or flu.
  • Fatigue.
  • Damaged, dry or cracked lips.

How Can You Get Rid of Cold Sore?

Although it might take a while to get rid of a cold sore, some medicines could shorten the healing time and make your symptoms less painful. Cold sore treatments include:

  1. Over-the-counter medications: You can easily buy without prescription ointments or creams that you apply directly to the sore. If you start using these creams, you may first notice itching or tingling. If you use these creams before the cold sore forms, you can prevent them from appearing. 
  2. Oral antiviral medicine: Your doctor might prescribe an antiviral medication that you can take orally. 
  3. Intravenous (IV) antiviral medicine: If other medications are not working, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication. These medicines are administered through an IV. 

Steps You Can Take to Prevent Cold Sore

To avoid being infected with sores again, you should take the following precautions as they might help: 

  • Avoid kissing and close contact with others. Also, avoid oral sex with someone who has a cold sore.
  • Never share towels,  dishes, razors, straws, cutlery, lip balm, or lipstick.
  • Always wash your hands well before touching your lips or eyes.

If you’ve already come into contact with the HSV-1 virus, follow these steps to reduce the risk of a cold sore outbreak:

  • Always try to stay healthy: A fever could trigger a cold sore, which is why people often call them fever blisters.
  • Get enough rest: Fatigue will generally weaken your immune system and make you more likely to get sick.
  • Wear lip balm with SPF. It will help protect your lips from sunburn and can help you avoid an outbreak.

If you have a cold sore in the future, be careful, especially around babies. Always wash your hands, and avoid a baby until the cold sore has healed completely.

Most individuals who develop cold sores learn to live and manage their outbreaks. Cold sores usually clear up in a few weeks and have no lasting effects in healthy people. However, babies or people with immune problems can get infected often.


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