A cold sore is a small blister caused by the herpes simplex virus (usually type 1), which develops either on the lips or around the mouth. Around seven in ten people in the UK have this virus, but only one in three will have any symptoms.
A cold sore usually starts as a tingling or burning sensation around your mouth; if an antiviral cream (such as aciclovir or penciclovir) is applied at this stage, it may prevent the visible signs of the cold sore from appearing. Otherwise, small, painful, fluid-filled blisters then appear, most commonly on the edges of your lower lip; antiviral cream can be helpful at this stage. When these blisters burst, the cold sore weeps a highly contagious fluid of viral particles; this stage is very infectious and very painful. After several days a scab will form, protecting the new skin beneath. The scab may dry, crack and bleed, but moisturising may help reduce this. After 9-14 days the cold sore will have healed. The area may be slightly red, but this will soon fade.
Cold sores are infectious and the virus can be passed on to other people by close contact. It is important to avoid touching your cold sore, because you can pass the virus on to other people’s hands. If you do touch the affected area, you must wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
For people with the virus, trigger factors can include being ill with cold and flu, exposure to extreme temperatures or weather, ultraviolet light from sunshine or sunbeds, and feeling stressed or run down. Most people who get cold sores get around two episodes a year, but some may experience more.
At Elmsleigh House Dental Clinic, as part of our Infection Prevention and Control Policy, we ask patients that if you have had a cold sore for less than 2 weeks, please reschedule any non-emergency dental treatment or hygienist appointments until after this contagious period has passed. This is not only because of the high risk of spreading the virus, but also because your lips may feel sore and could crack or bleed during treatment.
If urgent dental treatment is required (ie you are in pain and need immediate attention), our dentists will request that your cold sore is protected with a cold sore plaster to minimise the risk of cross-infection during emergency dental treatment.
So, if you do get a cold sore and you have a dental or hygienist appointment arranged, please give us a call on 01252 713797 with as much notice as possible, and we can reschedule any non-emergency treatment.