How to Tell the Difference Between Herpes in the Mouth and Canker Sores

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Herpes tongue is a variation of oral herpes or cold sores.

The HSV-1 virus causes 80% of herpes in the mouth, and the HSV-2 virus causes the rest.

Normally, HSV-1 occurs above the waist and HSV-2 occurs below the waist.

However neither genital nor oral herpes are site specific. This means that both types can infect any part of the body.


Herpes tongue outbreaks are fairly rare and are often caused by:

An infant or young child picking at a cold sore and then sucking his or her thumb.
Using an infected toothbrush.
Sharing infected crockery and cutlery such as spoons, forks, cups or glasses.
Sharing food from the same plate with an infected individual.
French kissing.
Transmission via oral sex.


Cold sores usually develop on or around the lips, nose or chin. Nevertheless, they can also occur inside the mouth as follows:

On the tongue.
Inside the cheeks.
On the hard palate.
On the gums.

Other symptoms of herpes in the mouth are:

* A painful throat making swallowing difficult.

* Shallow ulcers on the entrance to the throat.

* A grayish coating on the tonsils in teenagers and young adults.

Initial or “primary” infection is usually accompanied by ‘flu-like symptoms and sometimes lymph nodes in the neck will become swollen and tender.

With herpes tongue, clusters of blisters form, usually on the edge of the tongue. These watery blisters contain a yellowish fluid that is highly contagious.

Once the blisters burst, they form shallow ulcers that may or may not crust over, depending on tongue movement and the amount of saliva present.

The outbreak will last from 1 to 3 weeks.

Herpes in the Mouth and Canker Sores

Canker sores, or aphthous ulcers, are often confused with oral herpes.

They occur on the inner cheeks, inside the lower lip, tongue, hard palate, and gums… never on the lip outside the mouth.

These ulcerations are not contagious and they form without first developing fluid filled blisters.

They are small (between 3 mm and 10 mm), gray or yellowish and round, with a distinctive edge.

When these ulcers are white or light gray, they are extremely painful and the affected lip may swell.

Canker sores usually last about 1 week and disappear without treatment.


Topical ointments and salves are of no use if a person has cold sores inside the mouth.

Apart from that, your doctor may prescribe painkillers and oral antivirals, such as Acyclovir, Famvir or Valyclovir in order to ease your symptoms.

The most effective method of controlling tongue herpes or herpes in the mouth that we’ve come across so far, is to apply the oral homeopathic spray, “Herpeset” under the tongue three times a day during the outbreak.

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