Cold sore vs. canker sore and Common treatments

I get both of them on a monthly basis, so I know a lot about this subject from my own personal experience.  Read till the end, and I will share remedies that have worked for my family and me to alleviate pain and help them heal faster.

Mouth sores, irritations, and lesions, whatever you call them can be painful, unsightly and can interfere with eating, chewing, speaking, sleeping and even your self-esteem

They might be small, they might be large, they might be temporary, but mouth sores are a nuisance.

This featured image has four pictures. The upper left is my daughter with a cold sore in the tingling phase as it starts to move to the fill with a fluid stage. The upper right is one of my worst breakouts after falling asleep in the sun on vacation. The lower left is a canker sore from a lip-biting habit. The lower right is a canker sore from biting my tongue chewing to fast.

What is a canker sore?

Canker sores are also known as aphthous ulcers or traumatic ulcers, are small white lesions or sores surrounded by an area of redness. While canker sores are not contagious, they are often confused with cold sores. Oral lesions caused by canker sores and cold sores may feel similar, but they have different causes and treatments.

Canker sores are small, shallow, persistent sores that appear inside the mouth on the tongue, under the tongue, roof of the mouth, soft palate, cheeks, on the gums, or on the lips. Their exact cause is unknown, but there are triggers that include stress, immune deficiencies, illness or infection, tissue injuries, systemic disease, nutritional deficiencies, and trauma.

Canker sores are incredibly popular, affecting approximately 25 percent of the US population with recurrence rates are around 50 percent once you get one. Although they can be painful and last 7-14 days, canker sores are rarely a cause for concern or require you to seek professional treatment. However, if you are concerned about the color, shape, or size of a mouth sore, you should consult with a dentist or doctor to rule out something more serious.

Persistent sores can sometimes be a sign of a more serious problem. Even though you probably won’t seek professional treatment for common canker sores, that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to help promote quicker healing or alleviate the pain associated with them.

Everyone is at risk of canker sores, or a traumatic ulcer, but they tend to be more prevalent in people between the ages of 10 to 30 and among women. Minor sores typically last a few days or a week. The larger the sore or traumatic ulcers seems to last longer.

Although the pain associated with canker sores typically is minimal, persistent, recurrent canker sores can interfere with your life and impact the kinds of foods and drinks you’re able to consume. One of the obstacles in preventing canker sores is that there’s not a clear cause, and you don’t know when they will appear. Some experts believe that immune system problems, bacteria, or viruses may be involved.

However, there are a number of generally agreed upon triggers that can contribute to cankers sores or make them worse/last longer. You may want to avoid them if you are susceptible to these sores.

What causes a canker sore?

Here are common triggers of canker sores and their potential solutions.

Factors that can contribute to canker sores are stress, trauma, allergies, cigarette smoking, vitamin deficiencies, heredity, and injury.


One of the most common triggers for canker sores called traumatic ulcers is biting your lip or tongue when eating. Chewing Hard foods, wearing braces, or jamming your gums with your toothbrush.  Any sort of injury or trauma to the soft tissues of the mouth can result in a canker sore.

Solution: Avoiding injury altogether is impossible but you can limit your risk of injury by adjusting your habits.

Certain foods, including citrus or acidic fruits and vegetables (such as lemons, oranges, pineapples, apples, tomatoes, and strawberries) chips hard bread, taking large bite bites, chewing fast can cause sores for some people.

  •  slowing down and brushing intentionally
  • wear a mouthguard when playing sports.

Nutritional deficiencies

General nutritional deficiencies also play a role in the frequency of developing sores. Specifically, a deficient level of vitamin B 12, zinc, iron, calcium, and folic acid can trigger canker sores, worsen them, or even prolong their duration.

Solution: Maintain a healthy, balanced diet rich in all zin, iron, folic acid, calcium, dairy. Beef, shrimp, and kidney beans are packed with zinc. Eggs, liver, chickpeas, and black beans are rich in iron. Dairy is an excellent source of calcium, and you can find folic acid in dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, and avocado. These are just examples. If you think your diet may be the culprit of your sores you may want to Speak with a nutritionist if you think food is the cause for you or do some research online to develop the perfect diet for you combatting canker-causing deficiencies.

Do you take a daily multivitamin? If the answer is “no” and you’ve been experiencing recurrent canker sores, you might want to add that to your daily routine,

Getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables can be a challenge, vitamin B12 and D deficiencies are fairly common among children. If your child is complaining about canker sores, this could be the issue.

Solution: Make sure a multivitamin is part of your daily dietary regimen, or at the very least consider taking a B12 supplement. There are a number of child-friendly vitamin brands that can help make taking a daily vitamin something your child enjoys. There are new vitamins that are specific to your DNA that could help also.

Your hygiene habits

An allergy or sensitivity to something in some foods, toothpaste, or mouthwash can cause them.

Crazy as it sounds, your choices and your dental hygiene practices might actually be the root of your canker sore problems. Overzealous tooth brushing can cause a traumatic abrasion on the gums or cheeks to such an extent that canker sores develop. Similarly, overuse of dental products like alcohol-based mouthwashes or peroxide can damage to tissues of the mouth and cause sores. It’s not uncommon for people to brush so vigorously it causes a sore.

Solution: Try switching to a softer bristle toothbrush and an alcohol-free mouthwash. Pay attention to the pressure you’re applying with your brush. Electric toothbrushes are available that alert you when you’re brushing too vigorously.  Slow down and brush around not back and forth.


Women tend to get canker sores more frequently than men. Hormonal irregularities can also affect the oral health of males; it’s simply more prevalent among women.

The hormonal shifts that occur during menstruation are significant enough that it can cause a number of oral health issues, including swollen salivary glands, swollen and bleeding gums, and canker sores. Similar hormonal shifts during pregnancy can cause a number of gum-related issues such as pregnancy gingivitis and gum disease. If you have morning sickness the acids in your mouth can cause sores and cavities.

Solution: Some hormonal shifts may be unavoidable; you’ll have to try minimizing potential oral health affects another way. Maintain a healthy diet rich in vitamins, and brush and floss regularly (but not too vigorously) to keep consistent with your dental hygiene. If your menstrual cycle continues to cause canker sores, speak with your doctor for further evaluation.


Everyone deals with some degree of stress in their life in one form or another. Some people are under stress and don’t realize it.  Did you know that stress can actually impact oral health? Stress can alter body chemistry, which in turn can lead to a heightened risk of things like inflammation, gingivitis, and mouth sores. Additionally, stress has been linked with things like gum disease, TMJ, or teeth grinding.

Solution: There isn’t always a one-time solution or a quick fix or for managing stress. Everyone may have a different form of relief. Some people tackle stress through meditation, going for a run, or hitting the gym. Some people just need a night out with friends or someone to talk to and some just need sleep. The important thing is simply finding something that works for you. For me, it is usually I need more sleep.

Medical Condition

Autoimmune system irregularities can lead to your body attacking healthy cells not only in our body but also in our mouth, causing canker sores. There are a number of general health conditions that can have canker sores as a symptom. Irritable Bowel, Celiac, and Crohn’s disease have also been linked with causing the sort of systemic inflammation that can result in canker sores in the mouth.

Solution: When it comes to systemic conditions, the best you can really do is speak with your doctor about managing your condition Maintaining proper dental hygiene and a healthy, nutritious diet and a lifestyle that will all help to limit outbreaks

 Healing time and treatment for canker sores: vary

Canker Sores usually heal on their own in about 7 to 10 days, although recurrent outbreaks are common.

Rinsing with antimicrobial mouth rinses or essential oil may help reduce the irritation.

My Mom swears by taking 1000mg of Bayer Aspirin when you first notice it makes it go away faster. This has worked for me if I take it early enough.

In my experience, if it is caused by trauma it takes 14 days to go away unless I get it lasered. For me, a canker sore caused by trauma is more painful and my lymph nodes swell in my neck sometimes if I have one under my tongue.

Sometimes, antibiotics are prescribed to reduce secondary infection. I have never taken an antibiotic for a canker sore. For some cancer patients, magic mouthwash is helpful.

If you seek professional help… Laser is my # 1 go-to preferred treatment for canker sores!

Why it takes the pain away immediately. Yes immediately! 

I work for a Dr. that has a laser because I get so many of them. For me, Laser treatment is the bomb Diggity!!

If you don’t have access to a laser there are other

Go to Home remedies and treatments


I have a friend who swears by this …Place a Tums on the canker sore and it goes away in a matter of hours. I have not tried this personally because I use a laser to treat them.


Try rinsing your mouth with one teaspoon of Benadryl or another liquid allergy medicine containing diphenhydramine. Swishing the liquid around the canker sore(s) provides numbing relief. Rinse and spit.

Benadryl can be combined with milk of magnesia for an enhanced effect.

Milk of Magnesia 

Dab a little bit of milk of magnesia on your sores several times a day, if needed, or if it is really sore, rinse your mouth with a teaspoonful to help ease the pain of canker sores and promote healing. The antacid properties of milk of magnesia counter the acids in the mouth that worsen canker sore pain.

Milk of magnesia contains magnesium hydroxide. Used orally, it may change the pH in your mouth so the sore can’t thrive. It also coats the sore to help prevent irritation and relieve pain. It’s an acid neutralizer and a laxative.

To use:

  • Apply a small amount to your canker sore.
  • Let it sit for several seconds, then rinse.
  • Repeat up a few times daily. As needed

Baking soda

Try mixing a teaspoon of baking soda with half a cup of water to create an alkaline mouth rinse. The baking soda helps to neutralize the acids in the mouth and kill any bacteria, promoting fast healing.

Baking soda is thought to restore pH balance and reduce inflammation, which may heal canker sores.

To use:

  • Dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1/2 cup of water.
  • Swirl the solution you made in your mouth for 15 to 30 seconds, then spit it out.
  • Repeat every few hours as needed.
  • You can mix in your favorite antiseptic essential oil also.
  • I use tea tree, mint or lemon! Oregano works the best, but I cannot handle the smell or the taste


If you’re experiencing throbbing pain or a burning sensation, applying ice to your canker sore can help. In addition to helping numb the pain, the ice can help reduce any inflammation caused by irritation from foods.

This method is particularly beneficial for canker sores on the inside of the lips. Other areas of the mouth may be more difficult to reach with an ice cube.


It might sound silly; you can help promote a canker sore healing process by pressing a damp tea bag against the sore. Like baking soda, tea is alkaline, meaning that it can neutralize the acids in the mouth that can irritate and prolong recovery. from a canker sore. Keep the bag in place for a few minutes to help speed up your healing time.

 Dry Sage

Use one to two teaspoons of dried sage, use to make a mouth rinse that can help kill bacteria and viruses in the mouth, with the added bonus of helping to treat inflammation.

You can make your own sage rinse:

  • Add boiling water to 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh sage leaves.
  • Steep the sage-like you would lose tea in boiling water, at least 5 minutes.
  • Strain and let cool. So, you don’t burn your mouth, causing more sores.
  • Swish around your mouth for a couple of minutes.
  • Swallow the tea or rinse and spit it out
  • You can use it as a mouth rinse multiple times a day to treat your canker sores.

Sage tea has traditionally been used to treat mouth inflammation. It has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and astringent properties. It may also help relieve pain.

You can find sage mouthwash in most pharmacies and use them as directed.

Warm saltwater

Saltwater is great for helping to treat canker sores and other open wounds in the mouth. The sodium chloride creates an alkaline environment by altering the pH of the mouth, killing off bacteria. We recommend warm salt water rinses after certain dental procedures.

Rinsing your mouth with salt water is a go-to home remedy, although a painful one, for mouth sores of any kind. It may help dry out canker sores.

To use:

  • Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1/2 cup of warm water.
  • Swirl this solution in your mouth for 15 to 30 seconds, then spit it out.
  • Repeat every few hours as needed.
  • It may sting a little depending on how big the sore is.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide promotes the healing of a canker sore by cleaning the sore and reducing bacteria in your mouth.

To use:

  • Dilute a 3 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide with equal parts water.
  • Dip a cotton ball or cotton swab into the mixture.
  • Apply the mixture directly to your canker sore a few times daily.
  • You can also use diluted hydrogen peroxide as a mouth rinse. Swish the rinse around your mouth for about a minute, and then spit it out
  • Or add baking soda and create a paste and apply the same way as above


Alum powder

Alum Powder is made from potassium aluminum sulfate. It’s often used to preserve food and to pickle vegetables. Alum has astringent properties that may help shrink tissues and dry out canker sores.

To use:

  • Create a paste by mixing a tiny amount of Alum with a drop of water.
  • Dab the paste onto a canker sore.
  • Leave on for at least 1 minute.
  • Rinse your mouth thoroughly.
  • Repeat daily until your canker sore is gone.


Honey is known for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory abilities. Trusted Source

Honey is effective in reducing canker sore pain, size, and redness. It may also help prevent secondary infection. It tastes good as opposed to some of the other suggested remedies

To use:

  • Coat the sore dab on
  • or use as a mouth rinse
  • Apply honey to the sore four times daily.

All honey is NOT created equal. Most honey found at your grocery store is pasteurized at high heat, which destroys most of the nutrients.  Raw honey is less processed and retains its healing properties, and it tastes better.


Studies have shown that live probiotic cultures such as lactobacillus may help reduce the inflammation around the sore. In theory, eating yogurt that contains live probiotic cultures consistently may help aid in preventing or treating a canker sore, if you eat at least 1 cup of yogurt each day.

Coconut oil

Research has shown that coconut oil has antimicrobial abilities. It may help canker sores caused by bacteria and prevent them from spreading. Coconut oil is also a natural anti-inflammatory and may help reduce redness and pain. It tastes great too!

To use:

  • generously apply coconut oil to the sore.
  • Reapply several times per day until your canker sore is gone.


Over the counter products specifically made for the treatment of Canker Sores 

Colgate Orabase

  • Maximum strength paste formulas with 20% Benzocaine
  • Fast, temporary relief from the pain associated with canker sores, and oral irritations
  • It provides a shield from irritations when eating


Colgate Peroxyl

Recommended by dental professionals to cleanse and soothe canker sores and mouth irritations

  • Bubbling action cleans and alleviates discomfort to promote healing
  • Alcohol-free formula is ideal for sensitive mouths
  • We use this as a preprocedural rinse before dental appointments

Before using any OTC oral rinse, you should read product labeling and instructions carefully. Always check the manufacturer’s label for precautions and age recommendations, and be sure to consult with your dentist, pharmacist, or doctor for product suggestions, as well as usage and frequency directions, if you are uncertain which product is right for you. 


If your immune system is weak, Zinc is a mineral that boosts your immunity. Taking zinc lozenges regularly may help your immune system fight off bacteria that cause canker sores. It may also decrease healing time once you have a sore.

  • They may contain other ingredients, such as echinacea.
  • You dissolve one in your mouth like hard candy.

That was canker sores and common treatments.

If you have had success with other remedies I did not discuss in this blog, please feel free to share your experiences sharing them in the comments that can help others. Different remedies help different individuals.

What are cold sores?

Cold sores also are known as fever blisters or herpetic lesions are a result of the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) it is the initial cause of the sores – without it, there are no cold sores or blisters – but the blisters themselves are often triggered by psychological and environmental factors, such as stress or a cold.

Triggers of cold sore outbreaks vary from person to person. What causes cold sores for one person may not be the same for another. It’s important to figure out what triggers your cold sores so you can avoid them, or at least manage symptoms more quickly and effectively when they occur.

Herpes Simplex virus that lies dormant in your nervous system and typically appears in groups of fluid-filled blisters, usually occur outside the mouth on or around your lips, nose or chin when you are stressed.

In the US., up to 60 percent of children are exposed to the virus by late puberty, and nearly 90 percent of adults carry the virus by age sixty. Only about 40 percent of those infected experience outbreaks of oral herpes.

Like any virus, If you are in relatively good health, it may not affect you. Even if the sores are left untreated, it usually runs its course in about 7 to 14 days.

Causes of Cold Sores

As stated above, it is the Herpes simplex virus, and it is contagious, can be passed through oral contact during an outbreak, through kissing, sharing utensils, drinks, and can also be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy.

The first infection often occurs in children, sometimes without symptoms,

Once a person is infected, the virus stays in the body, occasionally causing recurrent attacks.

For me, I am not sure if it was heredity or contact, but my Dad gets them, I get them and my daughter gets them. I can think of better things to pass on to our children. 😉

The infection spreads to others by oral contact. In the presence of active sores, the virus is likely to be in saliva. So, it is important to avoid oral contact.

This means:

  • No kissing or other forms of skin contact with people.
  • No sharing of food, drink, or dining and kitchen implements.
  • No sharing toothbrushes and dental floss.
  • No sharing of towels.

Individuals with an active herpetic sore or those who are recovering from an outbreak should avoid close contact with infants, the elderly, and those who are immunosuppressed. Like in any virus outbreak.


Certain conditions can trigger an outbreak of cold sores.

They include:

  • stress
  • fatigue
  • exposure to sun and wind
  • hormonal changes
  • weakened immune system
  • contact


For me, fatigue combined with stress is my biggest trigger

Feeling tired and run down can make me vulnerable to cold sores. Fatigue taxes your immune system, making it harder for your body to deal with and fight off viruses, including the cold sore virus (HSV-1)

Getting good quality rest is key to helping my body fight off the virus and prevent it from producing symptoms in the form of blisters.

What to expect

After the initial infection, the virus travels along the trigeminal nerve to a collection of nerve cells, where it remains dormant until something triggers a reactivation.

Once activated, the virus travels down the nerve and leads to the development of a cold sore or series of lesions at the site of initial entry. For me, the breakout was usually the same spot every time.

Development and healing of these sores go through stages over the course of 7 to 14 days:

  • The early onset you get a tingling or itching sensation, but no visible sore.
  • burning or tingling,
  • followed by the development of painful sores on or around the lips, in the mouth, on the nose or other areas of the face
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • sore throat or pain when you swallow
  • fever
  • body aches and pains
  • headache
  • nausea
  • Eating and drinking become difficult.
  • The eruption of a blister or cluster of blisters.
  • The emergence of a hard, irregular crust, with cracking and some bleeding.
  • The condition recedes to a residue of slight swelling and redness and heals

If you’ve had the virus for a long time, you may experience periodic outbreaks of cold sores. Not everyone gets all of the above.

The outbreaks typically follow four phases, including:

  • Warning signs in the area of the outbreak, which can include tingling, burning, stinging, or itching sensation
  • The appearance of cold sores, which are filled with fluid and are often painful
  • Crusting over of the cold sores, which happens when the cold sores break open and form scabs
  • Healing of cold sores, typically without a scar, in one to two weeks.

Seeking Professional Care

There is general agreement in both the medical and dental communities that compared to medical doctors, dentists are more likely to encounter patients with oral herpes, and thus are better able to diagnose and treat the condition.

Also, since they may develop following routine dental procedures, dentists are in a position to offset the condition by prescribing preventive medications such as creams or pills.

It is not advised to seek dental treatment when the sores are active and fluid-filled because they are highly contagious and will spread to other areas on your face.

However, once you feel the tingle if your dentist has a laser…this is the best time to seek treatment if you catch it in the tingle stage, it will heal the next day! Do not wait until it gets to the vesicle stage to seek treatment. If you get it early in the tingling stage, it usually does not reoccur in the same spot after being lasered.

Laser has been a game-changer for both myself and my daughter. Neither of us gets breakouts or re-occurrences as frequently as we did before laser treatments were available to us! This is another reason I am sharing this information!

Healing time and treatment for cold sores:

Cold sores appear at the worst possible time due to stress, too much sun exposure, environmental factors, or sometimes for no reason at all other than just because they can.

They are annoying, painful, make you feel self-conscious, and usually heal in about a week to ten days. Because there is no cure for herpes viral infections, the blisters may reoccur during times of emotional upset, exposure to sunlight, allergies, or fever.

Both my daughter and I take preventative daily doses of Lysine, peridan C, or Life Rising P, all of which have worked for us at different times, depending on what I can get. You can purchase these products online. I have seen other treatments online that say they cure the Herpes Simplex Virus since ours is oral and laser works, I have not tried them or researched about that method of treatment.


Laser Treatment is the newest, fastest, and least painful option available. This is now my preferred method of treatment. Laser kills the virus located within the sore, stopping the virus before it develops fully, allowing the body to heal faster.

Treatment of cold sores with laser therapy is painless and only takes a few minutes. The laser never touches you or the sore.

It truly works like a magic wand. From a distance, the laser light is waved over the surface of the sore for two to ten minutes. It is that simple! Abracadabra!!

If you have ever had a cold sore, you will know what I mean when I say you can feel the tingling stop almost immediately.

Catching it as soon as you feel that tingle is the absolute best time to treat it.

Laser treatment for cold sores can reduce regular occurrences and may even prevent future outbreaks in the same spot.

So if you suffer from cold sores due to stress, call your dentist as soon as you feel the tingling for the best result. If you get it early enough, it may not come back in that spot after laser treatment. As states above, Laser has reduced the occurrence of outbreaks for both my daughter and myself.

You can still have the lesion treated if it has already progressed to the next stage. Once it is in a vesicle or scab stage, it may be too late to treat with a laser to stop recurrence. But if it is continuing to spread, you may want to call your dentist and do a virtual consultation.

If Laser is not available:

Non-prescription topical anesthetics can provide temporary relief.

Abreva can be bought over the counter at any drug store again; it works best if you get it at the tingling stage.

Prescription antiviral drugs may reduce these kinds of viral infections.

Veltrex is a prescription medication your Dr. or Dentist can prescribe to help heal and prevent cold sores or keep them away. Depending on how it is prescribed.

For some people, however, the virus remains inactive in their body, and they never have symptoms or breakouts.

Over the counter medication for cold sores:


Used at the first sign of a tingle, Abreva® Cream acts fast to tackle a cold sore at its source. Abreva® cold sore cream can heal a cold sore in as few as 2½ days* when used at the first sign of an outbreak. I copied this from their web site.

Zilactin has products for both cold sore and canker sores.

Why use it?

You can buy it at your local drug store, so accessibility is a plus.

Use Zilactin® if a cold sore or fever blister does appear. Zilactin Early Relief Cold Sore Gel treats cold sores or fever blisters. And dries clear, so you don’t have to feel self-conscious.

There are a few different kinds—one for cold sores one for canker sore.

Read the label to see which one is best for you.


  • Forms a patented bioadhesive to promote healing
  • Relieves pain for up to 6 hours

Stop use and ask a physician if:

  • Sore mouth symptoms do not improve in 7 days
  • The condition worsens, or symptoms clear up and occur again within a few days
  • Swelling, rash or fever develops
  • Irritation, pain or redness persists or worsens

Keep out of reach of children. If swallowed, get medical help or contact a poison control center immediately.

How to use:

  • Adults and children 2 years and older.
  •  Dry affected area.
  • Apply with a cotton swab or clean finger up to 4 times daily.
  • Allow drying 30-60 seconds.


How do I tell the difference between Cold sores and cancer sores?

The location of the sore can often help you tell if its a canker sore or a cold sore. Canker sores only occur inside the mouth and lips, while cold sores usually occur on the outside of the mouth around the area of the lips.

Most people are infected with HSV during childhood. After a new HSV infection, children under age five may have cold sores inside of their mouth that can sometimes be mistaken for canker sores. Hand foot and mouth disease can have sore on the outside and the inside of the mouth. I recommend you see a Dr. for this condition if you think your child has it, as it is highly contagious! Look for my blog on Hand, foot, and mouth disease for more information. 

The takeaway

While the exact cause of canker sores is uncertain, you can help prevent them by doing things such as protecting your mouth from injury, eating a healthy diet, and reducing stress.

Most canker sores and cold sores will go away on their own in a week or two.

Cold sores are caused by HSV infection. Once you have the infection, you have the virus for your lifetime. Some people with HSV will never have cold sores, while others will experience periodic outbreaks.

Cold sores should clear up on their own in a few weeks, although antiviral medications may speed healing. You should be particularly conscious of avoiding skin-to-skin contact or the sharing of personal items when you have a cold sore, as this could spread the virus to others.

Call your dentist to see if they have a laser, and laser therapy is an option for you!!!

To see what they look like and treatment options Click the link. See my YouTube video…

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

If you like my content, subscribe so you will be notified when blogs are posted.

Go to like my page for daily posts and information