Dental Care

Oral Herpes and Cold Sores


Ever heard of oral herpes? Experts estimate that antibodies to the herpes simplex virus (HSV1) are present in the blood of up to eight in ten members of the general population. 

The human immune system only creates HSV1 antibodies as part of its response to the actual presence of this specific virus within the body. 

The presence of HSV1 antibodies in someone's blood is absolute proof of a previous exposure to the herpes simplex virus.

Why is this fact about the production of HSV1 antibodies significant? Well, it means that about eighty percent of the general population has at some point in life been exposed to the herpes simplex virus.

Oral Herpes and Cold Sores

Full-blown herpes simplex infections cause the appearance of an array of symptoms, but other HSV1 infections are sub-clinical.  The latter type of infection is completely asymptomatic (causing no symptoms at all), and a person with a sub-clinical infection will probably not even be aware of the condition. 

However, once HSV1 enters the body some of the virus particles will reside there forever, whether or not the person experiences any symptoms during the initial infection.

Approximately one-third of all people who have been infected by herpes simplex (or slightly more than twenty-five percent of the general population) experience a periodic "reactivation" of the HSV1 virus particles lying dormant within their bodies. 

When the virus becomes active, it causes intermittent but recurring episodes of cold sores (sometimes called fever blisters).  The "breaks" in between these episodes are the result of the HSV1 virus particles returning to dormancy after their brief period of activity. 

Fortunately, however, not everyone who has been infected by herpes simplex will continue to suffer due to the presence of the dormant HSV1 particles in their bodies. 

The virus remains dormant and never reactivates in about two-thirds of those previously infected (a little over half of the general population), and those lucky people will not endure any recurring cold sore lesions.

The oral herpes particles within the bodies of those fortunate people remain dormant indefinitely, living within nerve tissues.  The same nerve tissues also house the virus particles in between the recurring episodes of the cold sore breakouts that are suffered by people who are not as lucky. 

Typically, these dormant oral herpes particles are found within the trigeminal nerve ganglion, an important bundle of nerves which is located on the side of the head near the temporomandibular joint (the TMJ). 

If and when the virus reactivates, the HSV1 particles pass down the mandibular division of the trigeminal nerve until they arrive at the part of the face (typically the lips and around the mouth) where they ultimately cause a cold sore to form.

A person suffering from recurring cold sores will usually have them appear in the same areas of the face, because the nerve tissue that the dormant HSV1 particles reside in services those particular facial areas. 

The Immune System and Stress

There is some evidence of a correlation between the appearance of episodic cold sores and periods during which the person's immune system would typically be stressed or compromised. 

This apparent correlation is logical, because a healthy person's immune system would normally be able to fend off attacks by reactivating oral herpes. 

However, that same person's immune system, if compromised or weakened by stress or another health condition, could be rendered temporarily incapable of keeping the reactivated virus at bay.  In that event, the reactivated oral herpes will replicate and travel down the facial nerve, ultimately resulting in cold sore formation.

Don't despair if you're one of the many who suffer from recurring, episodic cold sores.  Although they can be painful, unsightly and embarrassing, cold sores usually scab over and heal on their own within a few days to two weeks after appearing.

Research indicates that if you start taking antiviral medication quickly enough, it's possible to resolve an outbreak even sooner.  Today's modern antiviral drugs are able to significantly reduce not only the severity but the duration of cold sores when they are taken at the onset of the outbreak. 

You can better anticipate the occurrence of an oral herpes outbreak before it becomes visible by watching for and tracking the types of circumstances which seem to trigger your cold sores. 

Taking an antiviral medication quickly enough - preferably before the formation of the lesions, while the area is simply tingling - you might be able to reduce your oral herpes symptoms significantly.

Getting enough rest, drinking enough water and lowering your stress levels seems to be important to prevent outbreaks and for getting better.


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