Cold Sores at your Dental Appointment

Curious to know if you should keep or cancel an appointment if you find yourself with a cold sore this fall? We applaud your desire to keep your appointment and keep your oral health on track, but you should give us a call so we can help you reschedule. 1 in 4 people have recurring cold sores, so it’s not anything to feel embarrassed about. It’s better if we wait and see you once the cold sore is fully healed, usually in about 8 to 10 days. Cold sores are generally small blisters on the border of your lip and shouldn’t be confused with canker sores, which are generally found on the soft tissue inside your mouth. Here’s an illustration of the difference.

Cold sores “outbreaks” are commonly caused by the Herpes Simplex, or HSV 1 virus, which 85% of the population has tested positive for according to the American Sexual Health Association. This virus is actually in the same family as the virus that also causes chickenpox. Usually, people contract HSV 1 when they’re very young, through skin contact or skin to saliva contact by a family member. HSV 1 can also spread through kissing, or sharing drinks, utensils, or lipstick. Once you’ve contracted the virus, it never leaves your body, but not everyone who tests positive for the virus will experience cold sore outbreaks. According to the American Sexual Health Association, 20-47% of people will experience an active episode.

Outbreaks can be triggered by stress, illness, fatigue, ultraviolet light, fever, nerve damage, menstrual cycle, or an otherwise compromised immune system. Usually, the first sign that you’re about to have an outbreak is a tingling or burning sensation at the edge of your lip. A typical outbreak will go through the following stages:

  1. Tingling (highly contagious)
  2. Blister (highly contagious)
  3. Ulcer (the most contagious stage)
  4. Scabbing (still contagious)
  5. Healing into a slight pink scar (less contagious)

If you notice a cold sore outbreak forming, our office or your medical doctor can write a script for an antiviral cream or pill. The sooner you start this treatment, the better. By preventing your cold sore from fully activating, you’re also reducing the risk of it being spread. When you do have an active outbreak, try to avoid kissing or sharing drinks so you don’t spread the virus.

If you come to an appointment with a cold sore, then the virus could spread to other areas of your mouth, face, or neck. Of course, if you are in pain or experiencing an emergency we can, and will, treat you, even if you have a cold sore. We have all the proper protections in place to ensure that the virus doesn’t spread to your provider or to another patient, including eye protection, gloves, jackets, handwashing protocol, disinfectants used between every patient, and state-of-the-art sterilization for our instruments. We do make it our priority to reduce the chance of the provider spreading it to other areas of your mouth during your appointment which is why it is ideal to reschedule until after your cold sore is fully healed (8-10 days).

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