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How Herpes On Gums Affects Your Oral Care

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

You're probably familiar with the word "herpes," but may not know how this general term plays a role in your oral health. And while finding out you have a herpes infection may at first be alarming, it's a manageable condition that many people live with. Did you know that, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 47.8% of the U.S. population (between the ages of 14 and 49) have Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1)? Herpes h two categories. HSV-2 is usually contracted sexually and causes genital herpes, while HSV-1 is contracted orally and causes cold sores on gums and mouth. And while oral herpes can be distressing, it's a controllable condition with help from your dental professional.


There are several ways to acquire HSV-1. Most people diagnosed with oral herpes get it in childhood through close exposure to family members who have it. Even if someone is not exhibiting symptoms of HSV-1, they can spread it through casual contact like touching skin. In fact, many people who spread oral herpes are not even aware they have it.

While skin-to-skin contact with family members is the most common way for kids to be infected, they can also contract it through other contact forms. For example, a child can catch HSV-1 through other children's bodily fluids at school. As children grow older, they can acquire it during their teens or young adulthood. This can happen after kissing or sharing personal items (like lip balm or a razor) with an infected person.


Gingivostomatitis, a herpes-related infection of the mouth and gums, is the standard form in which herpes can affect your oral health. Oral herpes on the gums and mouth region is common among children who have recently been infected with HSV-1 and are experiencing their first outbreak of herpes symptoms.

According to Medline Plus, common symptoms of Gingivostomatitis, or Herpetic stomatitis, include:

  • Red, swollen and sore gums
  • Cold sores or blisters inside or around the mouth that can be painful if they break open
  • Ulcers on the gums, which can also be painful
  • Sore throat
  • Bad breath
  • Increase in saliva flow (drooling more)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever


To get a confirmed diagnosis of HSV-1 or the presence of Gingivostomatitis, a dental professional will inspect your gums. They can generally identify oral herpes without special tests. Even so, diagnostic tests may be a good idea if your dental professional is concerned you could have an STD or condition with similar symptoms. In this case, they may take a small sample of the tissue from your sores and have it tested for other types of viral or bacterial infections. Your dentist may perform a biopsy if they suspect the sores are cancerous.


As noted by Medline Plus, your child's cold sores should disappear within ten days without treatment. During this time, your dentist may recommend using an over-the-counter desensitizing agent to ease the pain as you recover. You may also be given a prescription for an antiviral medication to further shorten the outbreak of these sores. Let sores heal without picking them and to apply a cold compress to relieve irritation.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the recurrence of oral herpes is dependent on many factors. Some children, after their initial herpes outbreak, may never experience symptoms again. At the same time, stressors like exposure to intense temperatures, illness, poor diet, dehydration, fatigue, and breaks in the skin can cause the symptoms of oral herpes to reappear.

As always, it's essential to continue a good oral health regimen even while you recover from an uncomfortable virus. If your gums are irritated, switching to a toothbrush with soft bristles will prevent further aggravation. Remember to be gentle on your mouth and know that these painful yet common symptoms will pass.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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