Mouth Sores—When Should You Call Your Dentist?

When to Call Your Dentist

They are normal, but painful, and almost every adult has experienced them—mouth sores. Canker Sores, Cold Sores and Thrush can range from uncomfortable to painful, but do you need to call your dentist when you get them?

“Common mouth sores–canker or cold sores–are different disorders,” says Dr. Caroldental_care_phoenix Ford from her Phoenix dental office. “Sometimes you need to let them heal on their own, but there are times to call the office.”

Canker sores (Aphthous ulcers) are caused by stress, allergies, biting the cheek, or putting a sharp object (like a plastic toothpick) in the mouth. Women’s menstrual cycles can also affect the development of sores, particularly in the pre-menstrual portion of the cycle.

“While their cause has not been discovered, we do know they are not contagious,” says Dr. Ford. “But that doesn’t mean they aren’t bothersome.”

Canker sores, found inside the mouth, on the tongue, and on the cheeks, usually heal in a week to 10 days. They are generally whitish with a red border.

“Canker sores sting or burn when you eat sour or very spicy foods,” says Dr. Ford, “so while the sores are healing, try to avoid those foods.” Dr. Ford also recommends antimicrobial mouth rinses to ease the pain temporarily.

If the canker sores don’t go away in two weeks, or seem to be spreading, it’s time to call the dentist and make sure the infection isn’t spreading, or the cause isn’t something more serious.

Cold sores, or fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex virus. They most often occur around the mouth, nose, or chin. This virus can’t be cured, but it can be controlled. Once you have the herpes simplex virus, it may stay dormant in the body for months or years, but just because it’s not visible doesn’t mean it’s not going to come back. The disease is commonly referred to as HSV-class 1, to distinguish it from genital herpes, HSV-class 2. (Get more information about herpes infections.)

Cold sores are highly contagious, and can be transferred by kissing, oral sex, sharing lipsticks or lip balm, or eating and drinking utensils.

The outbreak of herpes simplex (both oral and genital) is often preceded by a tingling or itching in the area of the outbreak. Some people feel sick or like they are “coming down with something.”  The outbreak itself is a group of small blisters. Herpes can be aggravated by sunburn, stress, emotional upsets, or even just a cut.

Most cold sores take about a week to ten days to dry and disappear. Anti-viral drugs are available through a prescription, and there are over-the-counter pain relievers to numb the pain and help the skin heal.

“Cold sores and canker sores can also be treated with soft-tissue lasers,” says Dr. Ford.

“If any sore seems to be spreading, call us. It should be looked at and treated as soon as possible,” Dr. Ford continues.

Candidiasis or Thrush appears as white patches on the tongue and on the inside of the cheeks. Thrush is an infection caused by the overgrowth of a yeast fungus commonly found in the mouth. “Not all bacteria or fungal growth is bad,” says Dr. Ford. “What causes trouble is when the balance of bacteria is interrupted–by antibiotics, for example.”

Thrush is most often caused by taking prescription antibiotics, ill-fitting dentures, dry mouth, and poor oral hygiene. It occurs more often in diabetics and people with fragile immune systems.

“Because this disease is not as common, it’s a little harder to diagnose on your own,” says Dr. Ford. “It’s best to see your dentist if you suspect an outbreak, because Thrush needs problem solving to cure. We need to find out what is causing it and address that issue,” says Dr. Ford.

Your dentist would rather see you earlier in the progress of any mouth problem rather than later. It’s easier to keep your teeth and smile bright when problems are solved early.


  1. […] Cold sores are also good candidates for laser treatment. Caused by the herpes virus, cold sores can last two weeks from pre-symptom to resolution. “Not only are they painful, but cold sores are contagious,” says Dr. Ford. “Using a laser to reduce the time the sore is contagious is a way to control the spread of herpes.”  View our recent article for more info: Mouth Sores—When You Should Call Your Dentist. […]

Speak Your Mind