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I Have a Cold Sore-Can I Still Undergo Dental Treatment?

2017/03/07   |   Back to News


Nearly everyone has been plagued with cold sores at one point or another. They often show up at very inconvenient times, such as right before you are scheduled for a dental treatment. If you have an upcoming procedure, but have suddenly developed a cold sore, should you go ahead with it? While cold sores are rarely ever serious, they can interfere with dental treatment in more ways than one-here’s how.

What is a Cold Sore?

Cold sores actually consist of clusters of tiny blisters that form on the lips or corners of the mouth. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), which most people develop during childhood. This virus then lies dormant in the body until it is “triggered” by stress, fatigue, or another type of infection. Cloudy, pus-filled blisters then form, which eventually break open and become bright red. Most will heal on their own within seven to ten days of breaking open.

Cold Sores are Contagious

All cold sores are contagious, which means you should avoid passing them along to others. A primary way they are passed is through kissing, but you could also spread the herpes virus if you touch your cold sore (particularly once it has broken open) and then shake hands with someone else. As such, you should avoid picking at your sore, and be sure to wash your hands after applying medicine or a bandage.

Problems with Dental Work

Many dental procedures require the use of high-speed drills, which can result in aerosols that carry pathogens from a patient’s mouth as far as six feet away. This means that when a patient has a cold sore, the herpes virus could spread to the eyes and hands of a dentist or surgical assistant, causing serious infection or even blindness.

Dental professionals who are exposed to the herpes simplex virus may also develop a herpetic whitlow, which involves pus-filled blisters on the hands or fingers. Those who develop such an infection will not be able to treat patients while the herpetic whitlow is active.

Increased Patient Discomfort

Performing dental treatment when a cold sore is present can also be problematic for the patient. For example, you may experience a great deal more discomfort from holding your mouth open for long periods of time. Patients with an active cold sore are also more likely to experience cracking and bleeding of the gums and lips, problems that could hamper their recovery.

Here at Bright Dentistry, we generally recommend putting off dental treatment if you have a cold sore, providing it is not an emergency. This is typically not a problem for most people, as cold sores tend to heal very quickly. Since frequent sun exposure can increase your risk of developing a cold sore, we recommend our Panama City patients use a lip balm containing sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher when at the beach. Regular dental exams will also make it less likely that you will need to put off a major procedure due to a cold sore-please schedule your next appointment today.

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