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Canker Sores in Kids: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

By February 17, 2021March 28th, 2024No Comments

Your child is complaining of a sore mouth, is having trouble eating and talking, and cries when you brush their teeth. You have them open wide so you can take a look, but their little teeth appear as white and healthy as ever. That’s when you notice small, white or yellowish sores on the inside of their cheeks. We’ve had parents visit with a Brooklyn kids’ dentist at Bitesize Pediatric Dentistry concerned that the sores mean their child has a gum infection or abscess. The good news is, they’re most likely canker sores, technically called aphthous ulcers, which, while painful, aren’t usually serious.

In this post, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about canker sores in kids, including:

  • What is a canker sore?
  • How can you tell the difference between a canker sore, a cold sore, or a tooth or gum infection?
  • What are the symptoms of canker sores in kids?
  • What causes canker sores in children?
  • How long do canker sores last?
  • How are the treatment options and how can you reduce your child’s discomfort?
  • When should you visit a dentist for mouth sores in kids?

What is a Canker Sore?

Canker sores, known as aphthous ulcers, are small, shallow lesions, or sores, inside of the mouth. They’re typically white, yellowish or gray with a red border. They’re most often found on the inside of the lips or cheeks, on the roof of the mouth, on the tongue or on the gumline. It’s most common to see a group or cluster of these mouth sores in kids, though a child can also have a single canker sore. 

Canker Sore vs. Cold Sore or Dental Infection: What’s the Difference?

Sores or blisters in a child’s mouth or around it can sometimes cause parents to panic. Is it a canker sore or a cold sore? Could it be a sign of a tooth or gum infection in a child? 

First, let’s differentiate between canker sores and cold sores. Canker sores occur inside of the mouth and the ulcers are usually flat, while cold sores are fluid-filled, painful blisters that tend to appear on the outside of the mouth (around the lips and under the nose and chin). Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex 1 virus and are highly contagious. Are canker sores contagious? No, canker sores are not contagious and aren’t spread from person-to-person contact. 

While a sore on the gums could be a sign of a tooth or gum infection in children, an abscess from a dental infection will look like a small pimple. It will also result in severe, persistent, throbbing tooth pain. If you’re unsure, however, check in with your pediatric dentist.

Symptoms of Canker Sores in Children

Canker sores, or aphthous ulcers, are pretty straightforward for a pediatrician or pediatric dentist to diagnose. Some common symptoms of canker sores in children, include:

  • Small, flattish, painful sores or blisters in a child’s mouth 
  • Sores that are white, yellowish or gray with a red edge or border
  • Lesions that appear in a cluster
  • Difficulty talking or eating
  • Pain when touching or brushing around the area
  • Usually no fever, though, sometimes, a severe canker sore attack can lead to fever, swollen lymph nodes and even facial swelling

What Causes Canker Sores in Kids?

Why do kids get canker sores? No one knows exactly what causes canker sores in kids, or adults for that matter. However, there are a number of things that are thought to play a part in the development of these mouth sores, including:

  • Stress
  • Vitamin deficiencies 
  • A weakened immune system (recurrent canker sores are tied to a number of health conditions, including celiac disease)
  • Genetics
  • Certain medications
  • Viruses and bacteria
  • Mouth injuries
  • Food allergies
  • Irritation, such as that caused by orthodontic appliances like braces

How Long do Canker Sores Last?

One of the first questions we get from parents is, how long do canker sores last? This is understandable since no one likes to see their little one in pain. Canker sores in children usually last for one to two weeks. Many kids with canker sores will get them again.

Canker Sore Treatment for Kids

Canker sore treatment for kids will vary depending on how severe the sores are, how old your child is and your child’s overall health. In extreme cases, when the condition is super painful and long lasting, treatment could involve prescription mouthwashes, nutritional supplements, oral medications or even laser treatment. 

As for how to get rid of canker sores entirely, that’s not really possible. In general, even prescription canker sore treatment for kids will be geared towards alleviating your child’s pain and lessening the duration of the sores. While there isn’t a surefire way to prevent or get rid of canker sores forever, you can encourage your child to get enough sleep and eat a healthy, well-rounded diet, while also keeping their stress to a minimum to reduce the likelihood of recurrences. 

The majority of the time, since the sores will resolve within two weeks on their own, canker sore relief for kids can be achieved at home with over-the-counter remedies. Here are some ways to reduce your child’s pain:

  1. Offer plenty of fluids. Keeping your child hydrated is important for healing. 
  2. Give your child an over-the-counter pain reliever according to your doctor’s instructions and dosage recommendation. 
  3. Have your little one stick to liquids or soft foods until any pain they experience while eating subsides. Hard or crunchy foods can irritate the lesions. 
  4. Avoid spicy, acidic, or really salty foods or beverages since they’ll make your child’s canker sores even more painful. Bland food is ideal. 
  5. Be sure your child stays away from any foods they’re allergic to or that you suspect they may be allergic to. 
  6. Limit talking (we know, easier said than done). Sometimes, talking causes canker sores to hurt more. 
  7. If your child has braces, use orthodontic wax to cover any parts of their braces that are irritating their mouth. Have your kiddo break off a piece of wax, roll it in between their fingers to warm it up and stick it on the offending brackets or wires. 
  8. Continue practicing good oral hygiene with regular brushing and flossing to ward off infection.
  9. Brush kids’ teeth very gently and use a soft-bristled toothbrush, trying to avoid hitting their sores. You may also want to temporarily switch to a toothpaste with a mild flavor. 
  10. For kids who are at least six or seven years of age and able to spit out mouthwash, you can have them swish with an alcohol-free mouth rinse, like Colgate Peroxyl, once or twice a day. This type of mouthwash can offer canker sore relief for kids by helping to facilitate healing and by eliminating bacteria in the mouth that could make things worse. 

One thing to note is that we don’t recommend using topical, over-the-counter canker sore medicine for kids without checking with your doctor first, especially if your child is under the age of two. This is because some of the medications contain benzocaine, which can cause a rare but serious condition, and young children are at the greatest risk. Sometimes, your doctor can actually prescribe a safer and more effective topical canker sore medicine for kids that will help alleviate pain and promote healing. 

When Should You Visit a Doctor or Dentist for Mouth Sores in Children?

If your child has severe pain during canker sore outbreaks and/or the sores come back several times per year, are very large or last for more than a few weeks, you should schedule a visit with your pediatrician or pediatric dentist. Additionally, if you’re unsure whether a blister or lesion is actually a canker sore, make an appointment with a healthcare professional to have it looked at. 

Regardless, even with mild cases, it’s always a good idea to let your pediatric dentist know about your child’s mouth sores at their next check-up. Your little one’s dentist can make sure your child’s oral health is on track and offer you further guidance on canker sore relief for kids. 

Now that you know everything from what causes canker sores in kids to ways to help with discomfort, we hope if your kiddo suffers from mouth sores, you’ll have a better idea of why it’s happening and what you can do about it. If at-home remedies aren’t helping or you’re concerned something else is going on with your child’s oral health, schedule a visit with a Park Slope, Williamsburg or Dumbo, Brooklyn pediatric dentist at Bitesize Pediatric Dentistry today!


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