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Cold and Canker Sores: The Stress Connection

ColdSoreCold sores and canker sores are two of the most unwelcome oral problems you can develop. While both occur either in or around the mouth, they are two different conditions and are often confused. They do develop from similar triggers, such as stress. These common sores are usually harmless, but they are painful and unsightly, so a consultation with your dentist may be in order.

Canker Sores

Canker sores, also called aphthous ulcers, develop on the inside of the mouth, rather than on your lips as cold sores do. They are small, white or gray sores with red borders. These develop on the soft tissues in your mouth and sometimes at the base of your gums. Canker sores are also not contagious, but they can be painful and make eating and talking difficult.

The exact cause of canker sores is undetermined, but some experts believe immune system problems or bacteria may be involved. Stress is also a factor in canker sore development. The connection between stress and a compromised immune system has been proven. If you are feeling stressed, canker sore development could be directly related to stress or be a product of a compromised immune system

Canker sores usually heal without any treatment in a week or two. Non-prescription topical anesthetics and antimicrobial mouthwashes offer short-term relief. Staying away from spicy or acidic foods will decrease irritation. For anything more than this, it’s a good idea to consult with your dentist. If your canker sores are large, painful or don’t seem to be healing, talk to your dentist. Antibiotics and oral bandages might be needed to reduce secondary infection.

Cold Sores

Cold sore blisters that develop on or around the lips are typically caused by the HSV-1 virus. Many people first experience an HSV-1 infection in early childhood, but a visible cold sore outbreak may not appear until later in life.

When a cold sore outbreak occurs, it’s usually after you’ve experienced a cold sore trigger, such as stress. The trigger causes the virus to move through your body until it settles in or around your lips or mouth. Many report a tingling feeling right before outbreaks, which leads to a visible and contagious sore.

Stress can wear down your immune system, giving dormant cold sores the opportunity to appear. Since stress can cause changes in your cells and tissues, those changes invite the cold sore virus to activate. While completely staying away from stressful situations is difficult, you can neutralize its effect on your body by relaxing and reducing stress.

Cold sores will clear up without treatment in approximately one week. However, if you have a weakened immune system due to stress, it could take longer. If the sores don’t heal within two weeks on their own, it’s a good idea to see your dentist. Call your dentist if you develop a fever or have a second outbreak before the first outbreak heals. Your dentist may decide to prescribe an antiviral medication to treat the sores.

The Stress Connection

Avoiding outbreaks of cold or canker sores by reducing stress is the best way to avoid unwelcome outbreaks. Although stress is a part of everyday life that is unavoidable, relaxation techniques, such as meditation and yoga, can help reduce it, giving you health benefits that go beyond mouth sores. If you do develop canker or cold sores, help is just a call away to your dentist.

Topical anesthetics, antibiotics and antivirals are all part of a course of treatment available from your dentist. Consult with your dentist when needed.

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