Cold sores start out with a tingling sensation on the firmer tissues of the lip, outside of the cheeks, corners of the mouth, and on the tongue. Small blisters then form that are yellowish in color with red raised borders. Unlike other types of mouth sores, cold sores are contagious!
Cold sores are actually a form of the herpes virus that lives within the nerve that goes to the region of the sore. That’s why cold sores almost always occur in the same general area. It is thought that stress is a big factor in the outbreak of cold sores. That stress can be emotional, chemical (allergy to make-up), or physical (manipulation during a dental appointment). Typically, they last for about 7-10 days and then subside. They are usually not painful.
Cold sores are contagious while blisters are present. They are usually passed from parents to children by contact with clothing, pillowcases, and the sharing of utensils. Once you have the herpes virus, it is a life-long nuisance. The best thing that you can do if you have cold sores is to protect the others around you be minimizing shared contact with clothing and kitchen utensils.
Before the days of universal precautions, dentists would catch the herpes virus from patients with active lesions. Without rubber gloves, the virus would cross from the patient’s mouth to the dentists fingers. Dentists would suffer from a debilitating variant of cold sores that would occur on his or her fingers and render them unable to practice.
Even with the use of gloves, your dentist may request that you reschedule your appointment if you have an active cold sore. This is a public health decision because another patient may inadvertently be infected by casual contact. In no way would this be a negative reflection on you, but it is a sign that the dentist cares for the health of all of his or her patients. The best thing to do is to call the office if you have cold sore on the day of your appointment and ask what the dentist would prefer.