picture of a woman with gum pain holding her fingers to her mouth

All About Herpes in the Mouth

Of all the possible sores found in the mouth and on the lips, some of the most common ones are caused by herpes, a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI). Read on to learn how prevalent herpes inside the mouth is, how it's contracted, and what treatments can relieve the symptoms.

How Common Is Herpes in the Mouth?

According to the World Health Organization, about 67 percent of the world's population lives with a herpes infection (HSV-1). During 2015-2016, data from the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimated that the prevalence of HSV-1 among Americans was 47.8 percent.

How Is Herpes in Your Mouth Contracted?

Oral herpes can be easily transmitted from one person to another by contact, such as kissing and shared utensils or toothbrushes. Children often contract the virus because of their curiosity and their affinity for exploring objects with their mouths.

Once a person contracts HSV-1, it can lie dormant for months or years. Factors such as stress, excess exposure to sunlight, and trauma to the lips and oral cavity may cause a breakout of sores on the lips and mouth. Female patients may also experience an outbreak in the mouth due to the hormonal changes initiated by menstruation.

Where Does It Occur?

Herpes in the mouth is located mostly on the lips or near the mouth. However, sores may also appear elsewhere on the face, tongue, or gums. Make sure to practise good hygiene and avoid touching the sores or picking at scabs when sores are healing, to prevent the virus from spreading to other parts of your body.

What Exams and Treatments Are Available for HSV-1?

Oral herpes can be difficult to diagnose. It is often confused with many other infections and can only be confirmed with a virus culture called PCR, blood test, or biopsy. The treatment for each case of oral herpes may vary due to factors such as severity and location.

Symptoms could last from seven to 10 days in the first outbreak. Subsequent outbreaks may heal completely in eight to 10 days. Medications can sometimes eliminate symptoms faster than if they were left to heal without intervention. Ask your physician or dentist about over-the-counter and prescription antiviral medications that can be used to treat herpes.

Medication is most effective when the symptoms are just starting (prodromal stage) and can stop the virus if treated early. However, once herpes in the mouth forms raised, blister-like lesions known as vesicles, the medication will likely not be as effective.

Talk to your primary care physician or dental professional if you suspect a herpes outbreak in or around your mouth. They will be able to properly diagnose your condition and help get you on the road to recovery and a pain-free smile.