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Of all the possible sores found in the mouth and on the lips, one of the most common is herpes in the mouth. Read on to learn about how herpes in the mouth is contracted, how prevalent it is among Americans, how it is caused, and treatments that can relieve the symptoms.

How Common Is Herpes in Mouth?

According to the World Health Organization, about 67 percent of the world’s population lives with HSV-1. A study published in the Journal of Esthetic and Restorative Dentistry (JERD) estimates 85 percent of Americans have been exposed to HSV-1.

How Is Herpes Contracted?

The herpes in mouth infection can be easily transmitted from one person to another by contact, such as kissing and shared utensils or toothbrushes. JERD notes that 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 that may cause it to reoccur are stress, excess exposure to sunlight, and trauma to the lips. Female patients may also experience an outbreak in the mouth due to the hormonal changes initiated by menstruation, says the Mayo Clinic.

Where Does It Occur?

Herpes in the mouth is located mostly on the lips or near the mouth, says the American Academy of Dermatology. Sores may also appear elsewhere on the face or on the tongue. Do not pick at scabs and practice good hygiene, advises The New Zealand Herpes Foundation, to prevent the virus from spreading to other parts of your body.

What Exams and Treatments Are Available?

Exams can be done by physicians or dentists for herpes in the mouth, and the treatment may vary. Symptoms may last from seven to 10 days in the first outbreak. Subsequent outbreaks may heal completely in eight to 10 days. Some medications, like acyclovir, which can be administered in a pill or cream form, can sometimes eliminate symptoms faster than if they were left to heal without intervention.

Medication is most effective when the symptoms are just starting (prodromal stage), and can actually arrest the virus if treated early. However, once herpes in the mouth form a raised lesion or form as vesicles, the medication is not as effective.