Mouth Ulcers in Children

Developing a mouth ulcer is really common and most of us will have an ulcer in mouth at some point in our lives. Studies have shown that mouth ulcers are more frequent in young adults and females, but it is also common to see mouth ulcers in children. Luckily, the condition is not contagious, so kissing or sharing drinking cups or cutlery won't give you ulcers.

What Is a Mouth Ulcer?

Mouth ulcers, also called aphthous stomatitis, are painful sores that occur inside the oral cavity--usually on the gums, cheek, palate or tongue. Speaking, eating, drinking or brushing your teeth can often exacerbate the pain.

There are three major types of mouth ulcer:

  • Minor ulcers. These ulcers, approximately 2-8mm across, normally disappear after 10--14 days.
  • Major ulcers.Bigger ulcers with a raised or uneven border are more serious and can leave oral scarring. They take longer, about up to several weeks, to clear.
  • Herpetiform ulcers. This is where many smaller, pinhead-sized ulcers occur in clusters.

Symptoms of Mouth Ulcers in Children

Your child may have a mouth ulcer if he or she has any of the following:

  • Intense mouth pain
  • Swollen gums that may be bleeding
  • A lack of appetite or refusal to eat or drink anything
  • Sullen mood or lack of energy
  • A sudden fever
  • Small liquid-filled blisters or sores in the oral cavity

What Causes Mouth Ulcers in Children?

There are a number of reasons children may have mouth ulcers:

  • Accidental biting the inside of the cheek when speaking or eating.
  • Mouth trauma, for instance from sharp pieces of food or chewing pens.
  • Poor tooth-brushing technique, causing irritation in the delicate oral tissues.
  • High levels of stress and anxiety.
  • Fatigue and weariness, for example, from a disturbance to sleep patterns, can suppress your child's immune system, leaving them susceptible to infections such as ulcers.
  • Changes to the diet, for instance, an increase in sugar consumption following a birthday party.

How to Reduce the Risks of Mouth Ulcer

Although you can't stop them, you can reduce your children's chances of developing mouth ulcers by limiting the following risk factors:

  • Try to reduce stress in your child's life.
  • Cut back on acidic food, such as citrus fruit, tomatoes, pineapple and orange juice.
  • Make sure your child eats meals at regular times.
  • Establish a set schedule for bed to ensure your child gets enough sleep every night.

How to Treat Mouth Ulcers in Children

Children's mouth ulcers are the same as adults' – they may be very tender, painful and can take up to 2 weeks to clear up. The pain is often worse when eating or drinking.

You can also ease the child's pain from ulcer by the following steps:

  • If the child is under 1, give him or her formula milk or Pedialyte®. If the child is over 1 year of age, make sure he or she gets plenty of liquids, for example, milk, water and iced pops. But try to avoid giving him/her fruit juices, as these are acidic and can irritate the oral cavity.
  • Your child will need to be looked after whilst suffering from a mouth ulcer, but won't require any time off school or childcare unless he or she develops a fever of about 100°F. Wait 24 hours after the fever has passed before sending your child back to school.
  • Provide lots of soft food for your child, but don't make them eat if they really don’t want to as they may have lost their appetite. However, do make sure they get plenty of fluid to prevent dehydration.
  • If your child is old enough to gargle, he or she can try gargling with warm salt water. Cut out spicy and acidic foods from meals, as these can irritate the mouth. Avoid chewing gum, as this may exacerbate any pain.
  • Make sure your child practice good oral hygiene to get rid of any stuck food in the mouth. Ensure they use a soft-bristled toothbrush to clean their teeth and floss their teeth every day.
  • Over-the-counter medicines for healing the sore and reducing pain are available but may not be suitable for children, so speak with your doctor or pharmacist first. Tylenol and Motrin are often prescribed for children, but you should avoid any drugs containing aspirin. If the mouth ulcer is very painful, you can put some anesthetic mouth gel on the sore. Mouth ulcers unresponsive to over-the-counter or home remedies may need prescription medicine.
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