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The Difference Between Canker Sores and Cold Sores

Posted on 2/8/2021 by Dr. Cheryl Freeman
The Difference Between Canker Sores and Cold SoresCanker sores and cold sores are both common types of mouth lesions that affect between 20% and 40% of the American population. These small blisters or ulcers may look the same, but the causes for both these sores are very different.

The main difference between canker sores and cold sores lies in their causes, site of infection, and treatment.

Site of Infection

Canker sores are small to medium-sized blisters that appear inside the mouth. This is the first indication that your sore is a canker sore and not a cold sore. If the blisters remain inside the mouth and appear on the inside of your lips, inside of your cheeks, on the gums, on the tongue, under the tongue, on the sides of the tongue, or at the back of your throat, then it is a canker sore and not a cold sore.

Cold sores, on the other hand, mostly appear on the lips and around the mouth. The cold sores can look like small, pus-filled blisters around your mouth and on the edges of the lips. With time, these pus-filled blisters become crusty, and the dry skin falls off to reveal new skin.


The causes of canker sores are multifactorial. The most common causes of canker sores are bacterial or viral infections, vitamin deficiency, or an injury inside the mouth. As a result, the skin becomes inflamed, and a blister forms. Some other causes of canker sores are; hormonal changes, stress, intestinal infection, and food allergies.

On the other hand, cold sores are caused by a contagious virus. The sore is caused by the same virus that causes the sexually transmitted diseases, herpes. For this reason, cold sores are also known as oral herpes. When you come in contact with a person infected by the herpes virus, acts like kissing, sharing toothbrushes, utensils, towels, cosmetics (lip balms, lipsticks, lip gloss), and straws can transfer the virus from them to you. Initially, you may not know that you have been infected by the herpes virus because the symptoms are mild, but over time, you may develop fever, body pain, headaches, and sores around your mouth and on the lips.


Canker sores are easy to treat. You can easily treat your canker sores with doctor's prescribed topical medicines or ointments like; antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and painkillers, or by using one of the popular home remedies like honey, yogurt, and coconut oil.

Cold sores can be treated by using antivirals like famciclovir, acyclovir, and valacyclovir. After the pus has been discharged or dries up, the blister will become crusty. The dead skin will fall off, and the new skin will appear. The cold sores heal within a week or two and do not leave behind any scars.

If you are still confused about your oral sores or are seeking treatment for your canker or cold sores, then visit Randolph Center for Dental Excellence and consult Dr. Bryan Freeman and Dr. Cheryl Freeman.

Randolph Center for Dental Excellence
Dr. Bryan Freeman and Dr. Cheryl Freeman

(336) 444-2772

134 Davis Street
Asheboro, NC 27203-5469

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