Canker Sores Versus Cold Sores

 In Services, Visit the Dentist

Did a reddish spot suddenly appear on or around your mouth? Was it accompanied by pain? What is that sore, anyway? And what should you do about it? Many people often confuse canker sores and cold sores. 

They sound the same and have similar symptoms, but knowing the difference can help you treat them properly. You may also want to speak with your local dentist to figure out the underlying cause of whichever kind of sores you are suffering from and to get long-term relief. 


This is the first, quick way to tell the difference between a cold sore and a canker sore is where they are located. Typically, a cold sore is found somewhere outside the mouth, such as on your lips. However, a canker sore is typically found inside the mouth, on the inside of the lips or cheeks. Where is your sore? That should tell you quickly which one you are dealing with. 

In addition to the location, you can check what the sore looks like. Canker sores are small ulcers, often with a white or grayish middle. A cold sore is a blister, often fluid-filled. Both may be red. 

If you are unsure of what your sore is, even after analyzing the location and appearance, ask your local dentist who can help you look closer. 


Both canker sores and cold sores may start with a tingling feeling and develop into a burning or painful sensation. This is why they are so often confused. They are both red, painful spots. However, over time, the cold sore blister will dry up and scab over. This is another way to tell them apart. 


This is a big differentiator when it comes to canker sores and cold sores. Canker sores could have any number of causes, from allergies to hormonal imbalance. They could also be caused by trauma to the mouth, citrus or spicy foods, or even deficiencies in vitamins or mineral. 

Cold sores, on the other hand, are caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV-1).  

Contagious or Not?

It’s important to know the difference between a cold sore and a canker sore because one is contagious and the other is not. Because a cold sore is caused by a virus, it’s very contagious, especially when it has erupted or broken open. However, a canker sore is not contagious, as it is caused by outside conditions or factors. 


For both canker sores and cold sores, there is no curing treatment. A cold sore being a virus will remain in your system, and can be flared up by stress or other factors. A canker sore, being caused by outside features, will need to heal on its own, while the cause will need to be addressed separately. 

While there is no cure, you may be able to treat your cold sore or canker sore with a medication to relieve the pain and help it heal faster. Your local dentist can help you address the pain and cause of the sores in your mouth no matter what they are. Speak to your dentist about your concerns. If you have any questions about your canker or cold sores, give us a call or contact us to make an appointment.

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