When we get sores inside our mouth or on our lips, usually they’re very painful. And almost all of them are caused by one of two things—either a herpes virus outbreak or canker sores, and I find that not only do most people get them confused, but can you believe this, most doctors get them confused also. So let’s talk about it.
Canker sores are not contagious. They’re very painful, especially when you’re eating and food touches the area where you have the canker sore. Canker sores occur almost exclusively inside you mouth, not outside, not on your outer lip, and not on your chin. And when they occur inside your mouth, which can be on this part of the skin or seen inside the cheeks, you see a gray or tan, round area with a bright red rim right around it. They go away in a couple of days and they’re easily treated with topical antibiotics. Usually, we take tetracycline, open a capsule, put it in a little glass of water, and take just a piece of cotton, dip it in that water, and hold it against the canker sore for a few minutes and, after 2 of 3 days, it will go away. This is very, very different from herpes outbreaks. Herpes outbreaks usually are not that painful although right before you get them, you feel a tingling or a burning in the skin where you’re going to get the outbreak. They are very contagious. They usually don’t occur inside your mouth, they occur outside your mouth. They can be right on the lip, on the edge of the lip, or around the mouth, or really any place on your face. And when they happen, usually they occur with blisters, and those blisters are often clustered together and with a red ear around it but not a red, sharp rim like you see with a canker sore. Over a period of a couple of days, they dry and crust and scab. They’re very easy to treat. They’re treated with oral medication, oral medication for only a day may become not contagious by the second or third day. If you’re getting sore inside your mouth or around your mouth or on your lips, and you’re not sure what it is and you don’t know how to treat it, see your dermatologist who can give you some medicine to make sure that the sores go away faster and you become comfortable much sooner.