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Canker sores, cold sores, and mouth sores: What's the difference?

At Hayes Family Dentistry, we know many people have experienced some form of mouth sores or irritation. Some mouth sores are harmless and go away on their own after a few days, while others are more serious and should not be ignored. Mouth sores occur for many different reasons, but bacterial infections, viruses, or funguses often trigger them. The best way to tell the difference between a canker sore and a cold sore is that canker sores occur inside the mouth while cold sores occur on the outside the mouth.

The most common mouth sores are:

Canker sores: A non-contagious, small, grayish ulcer with a red border, canker sores appear inside the mouth. While outside factors such as stress, fatigue, or allergies may increase the chances of developing a canker sore, most health experts believe they stem from bacteria or a virus that attacks the immune system. Canker sores typically heal within a week or two.

Cold sores: Also called fever blisters, cold sores are contagious groups of fluid-filled blisters that often erupt around the lips and sometimes under the nose or around the chin. Cold sores are the result of the herpes simplex virus, and once infected, the virus remains in the person’s blood stream.

Leukoplakia: A potential warning sign of oral cancer, leukoplakia is a premalignant lesion that appears as a white patch on the inside of the mouth, tongue, or gums. The lesions, which are caused by excessive cell growth, usually afflict those who smoke tobacco. Dr. Kevin Hayes and Dr. Sandy Hayes may choose to have the lesion biopsied if the outbreak appears severe.

Oral candidiasis: Also called oral thrush or moniliasis, this condition is caused by the overgrowth of a type of yeast called candida. Common symptoms of oral candidiasis include white spots inside the mouth and on the tongue, redness or discomfort in the mouth area, sore throat,difficulty swallowing, and cracking at the corners of the mouth. It is important to visit Dr. Kevin Hayes and Dr. Sandy Hayes if you have oral candidiasis. If left untreated, it may infect your bloodstream, which can be very dangerous. Healthy adults do not usually get thrush, and the condition is most often seen in infants, the elderly, patients undergoing chemotherapy, or people with AIDS or other diseases that are known to weaken the immune system.

Should you have a mouth sore that lasts a week or longer, we encourage you to give us a call and schedule an examination at our Cookeville office.

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patient testimonials

"I had multiple bad experiences as a child with the dentist. As a result, I have feared going to the dentist office for years. Dr. Kevin and Sandy are so gentle and caring that I still bring my children to them and we live almost two hours away!" ~ Tasha W.

patient testimonials

"Since age 7, I have been extremely fearful of going to the dentist. It was this age that I was told by a previous dentist that I would eventually have to have a root canal and my front tooth capped due to a bicycling accident. This gave me a scary image and sounded painful. When Dr. Sandy told me a root canal was needed, although it was 18 years later, it still sounded scary and painful. Then I was told about sedation. The entire day of the appointment I don’t recall much. When I woke up, the "scary" part was already over and I felt refreshed with zero pain or discomfort. I was completely satisfied with my smile and the results! As for the staff, each person I was in contact with was excellent in accommodating each need that I had and made me feel like I was a part of their family. I would 100% recommend Hayes Family Dentistry and sedation to anyone. The entire experience was, in one word, amazing!" ~ Kellie A.

patient testimonials

"No pain was felt. New found respect for dentistry. Recovery was a lot easier. Would not see any other dentist. Would recommend Hayes Family Dentistry to anyone and everyone. Very, very pleased with my experience and even brought my wife here. All I can say is WOW!" ~ Jason R.

patient testimonials

"I have been extremely afraid to go to the dentist. I had a bad experience about three years ago where my jaw got locked open during a procedure. For about an hour they had to do warm moist compresses and massage my temporal joint to get my jaw unlocked. I was extremely sore for about three and a half weeks. This created a fear of going back to the dentist. My experience with sedation: when I came in that morning I was not anxious about the appointment because I took a pill that morning that helped calm me. I was greeted, they got me comfortable, and I watched a pleasant video about ocean life. I don’t remember anything about that appointment. My next memory was of waking up refreshed and ready to go the next day. I didn’t have any soreness and didn’t have to worry about what I ate because of my joints being sore. It was the most pleasant experience I have ever had at a dental office. I will definitely have sedation again for any kind of future treatment." ~ Sara H.

patient testimonials

"Are you afraid to smile because you’re ashamed of your smile? Hayes Family Dentistry can help. Are you saying, “But I’m more afraid of going to a dentist than people seeing my smile?” Hayes Family Dentistry can really help; they helped me. Being afraid of the dentist is nothing to be ashamed of—it’s called dental phobia and you’re not alone. A lot of people suffer from it. But now thanks to sedation dentistry, you don’t have to suffer anymore." ~ Tony "Gator" Harrison
(Formerly with Country Giant)

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We love to give back to the community

We love to give back to the community in which we live and work. We provide educational presentations to local preschools, organizational groups like the boy scouts and church programs. Especially rewarding is our involvement with “Teen Challenge” and “Smiles from the Heart.” We are passionate about helping people who may be less fortunate or find themselves in difficult situations.

Hayes Family Dentistry, PC