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Canker Sore vs Cold Sore

By - Bad Breath Expert

When trying to compare a canker sore vs cold sore there are plenty of ways to decipher which is which. While both are small oral sores, they are different from each other, and one can be caused by a viral infection while the other can arise due to food and stress.

What is a canker sore?

A canker sore is an open sore inside the mouth or along the tongue. This type of sore can also be referred to as an aphthous ulcer. They can cause some discomfort and are normally white or yellow in color along with a red area in the middle. A canker sore is not contagious and therefore cannot be spread with any mouth-to-mouth interaction such as kissing or sharing food and drink.

canker sore

What is a cold sore?

A cold sore is normally associated with the herpes simplex virus and appears along the lips and side of the mouth. These sores are small but painful and red in color. They can also be called fever blisters. A cold sore can tend to leak fluid and scab at times. Unlike canker sores, a cold sore is highly contagious and can be spread from kissing, sharing food or by touching the sore.

Causes for canker sores

Although there is really no one cause for getting a canker sore, there are some things that doctors relate canker sores with that include the following:

  • Stress
  • Poor Diet
  • Vitamin Deficiency
  • Food Allergies
  • Menstrual Period
  • Hormones

Causes for cold sores

Canker sores can be brought on easily with stress or spicy food, but a cold sore is very different. Cold sores are normally only brought on by the herpes simplex virus from a person who is already infected with the virus. If a person shares their saliva with another person while kissing or sipping on the same glass, this can easily get someone else infected with the virus and therefore bring out a cold sore.

cold sore

How to detect a cold sore vs a canker sore

Knowing which type of sore you have is essential so that you know which route to take for treatment. There are many ways to determine which type of sore you have just by simply looking at your symptoms. Cold sores offer certain symptoms which include:

  • Pain around the mouth or effected area
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands
  • Clear leaky fluid from sore
  • Scab(s) over the blister

Canker sores have their own set of symptoms and can sometimes be confused with cold sores because they can be very similar. Some symptoms of canker sores can be:

  • A small painful sore or an open ulcer
  • White or yellow in color
  • Fever
  • Swollen glands

The biggest difference between a canker sore and a cold sore is where they are on the body and what they look like. While a cold sore is usually red and sometimes leaks a clear fluid, a canker sore is usually yellow or white. Both can cause a fever, but normally a canker sore only causes fevers, fatigue or swollen glands in very severe cases.


Treating a canker sore is normally very easy. There are many over-the-counter medications that you can buy to help ease the pain and allow the sore to go away much sooner than without treatment of any kind. These medications are normally gels or ointments that can be placed directly on the sore; however there are also certain mouth rinses that someone can use too. Homemade treatments can also be effective. Rinsing the mouth with salt and water can help clean out the mouth and the sore. This can be done along with a peroxide rinse or the peroxide can be placed right over the sore. Both of these homemade methods will help rid the mouth of the sore faster.

Like a canker sore, a cold sore can also be treated by leaving it alone or with over-the-counter topical ointments and creams. However, there are some cases when they need medical attention such as when they are extremely painful and take a long time to go away. A doctor may need to prescribe a stronger ointment or prescription pills. The issue with cold sores is that they can reoccur due to the herpes simplex virus. Once a person is infected with the virus it stays in the body and cannot be completely cured. Getting medical attention can help reduce the cold sores from popping up as frequently.


While there are many effective ways to treat both a canker sore and a cold sore, it is most beneficial to not get either sore in the first place. Prevent these sores from appearing in the future with a few simple tips.

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Preventing canker sores

While canker sores can go away on their own and are very common, no one likes getting them and worrying about treating these stubborn sores. Stop canker sore from reappearing by following these easy steps:

  • Avoid acidic or spicy foods
  • Follow proper dental hygiene
  • Use mouth rinse
  • Use toothpaste without sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) such as TheraBreath Toothpaste

Preventing cold sores

No one likes getting a cold sore and the sheer fact of having one can be quite embarrassing. Yes, there are plenty of treatments once you get one but it makes more sense to allow yourself to not have to get treatment in the first place. You can prevent yourself from getting cold sores simply by abiding by these rules:

  • Avoid mouth-to-mouth interaction with an infected person
  • Stay away from sharing any food or drink with infected person
  • Use sunscreen on lips
  • Do not share toothbrushes or silverware

Canker sores and cold sores are both very different and should be treated just as differently. While canker sores are not contagious and are not brought on by any viral infection, they can be brought on by genetics. Cold sores are highly contagious and are not brought on by your DNA, but instead with the herpes simplex virus. Keeping up with your dental hygiene, refraining from sharing any utensils, and sticking with a toothpaste that does not have SLS in it can help keep your mouth healthy, clean and sore free.