Welcome to cold and flu season. Along with that, many people are still trying to catch up after the stressful pace of the holidays. With this mix, your risk of getting a cold or canker sore increases.
While both are irritating, knowing the difference can help you respond appropriately when one appears, which will hopefully speed healing.
These are small ulcers with a white or gray base and red border. Unlike cold sores, canker sores appear inside the mouth and are not contagious. While their exact cause is uncertain, some experts believe they are more prone when the immune system is compromised. Fatigue, stress or allergies can add to the likelihood of getting a canker sore. Other causes include a cut from biting the cheek or tongue or reactions from hot foods or drinks. People who have intestinal problems, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, also seem to be more susceptible. Canker sores usually heal on their own after a week or two. For temporary relief, there are a number of over-the-counter topical anesthetics, steroid preparations and antimicrobial mouth rinses. Ask the pharmacist which is recommended for a faster healing time.
Also called fever blisters or Herpes simplex, these clusters of tiny fluid-filled bumps often erupt outside the mouth, typically around the lips, under the nose, or around the chin. Cold sores caused by herpes virus type 1 are very contagious. An outbreak may follow a fever, sunburn, skin abrasions or emotional upset. Cold sore blisters usually heal in a week on their own. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics can provide some relief. Prescription antiviral drugs may reduce the duration of these kinds of viral infections.
It is important to note, however, that ANY change to oral tissue that does not heal within 14 days should be examined without delay! This is a symptom of oral cancer. Nearly 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal (throat) cancer every year, killing an average of one person every hour.
Oral cancer has one of the worst survival rates of all cancers. Of those who acquire oral cancer, just over half are estimated to still be alive 5 years after diagnosis. Oral cancer’s death rate is higher than cervical cancer, thyroid cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, skin cancer (malignant melanoma), laryngeal cancer or cancer of the testes.
Since 1980, however, the death rate for these cancers has seen a slight decline. Unfortunately, some symptoms do not emerge until the cancer has reached an advanced stage because symptoms can mimic a bite on the inside of your cheek.
Because tissue changes in your mouth are fairly common and not always obvious, it is important to be aware of the symptoms, which include:
• white or red patch of tissue
• lesion in the mouth
• difficulty or discomfort when swallowing
• persistent sore throat
• a lump or mass inside the mouth or neck
• wart-like mass
• numbness in the oral/facial region
Lesions or discolorations that are early warning signs are not always visible, particularly in the back portion of the mouth (the oropharynx, the tonsils, and base of tongue), which can be an obstacle to early diagnosis and treatment. This is another reason to be committed to your regular oral hygiene exam and cleanings. During these times, we look for unusual changes in the mouth that may indicate a problem. However, you should never wait until your scheduled appointment to have anything unusual examined.
In our office, we use an early-detection screening device for oral cancer. This is a fast, painless light source that illuminates suspicious areas far earlier than a visual exam would find.
Although new cases have been dropping over the past few decades, a recent rise has been seen in throat cancers related to HPV (human papilloma virus) in white males under age 50. While the average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 62, about a third occur in patients under the age of 55.
Although an ugly canker or cold sore may not be welcome, they tend to go away in a week or ten days. Should an unusual spot or sore not heal after two weeks, call 910-254-4555 immediately for an appointment.