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Common Symptoms and Signs of Mouth Ulcers in Children

Common Symptoms and Signs of Mouth Ulcers in Children

Mouth ulcers, commonly referred to as canker sores, are a prevalent condition in children, often causing discomfort and pain. These small, round sores can appear inside the mouth, on the tongue, inside of the cheeks, or on the gums. While they are typically harmless and resolve on their own, understanding their symptoms is crucial for parents and caregivers to manage them effectively and ensure the comfort and well-being of their child.

Understanding Mouth Ulcers: A Basic Overview

Mouth ulcers are small lesions that can develop on the soft tissues inside a child’s mouth. They may appear as single sores or in clusters and are generally round or oval with a white, yellow, or grey centre and a red border. Unlike cold sores, which are caused by the herpes virus and typically appear outside the mouth, mouth ulcers are not contagious and occur inside the mouth.

These ulcers can be categorised into three types: minor, major, and herpetiform ulcers. Minor ulcers are the most common, small in size, and usually heal within a week or two without leaving scars. Major ulcers are larger and deeper, often taking several weeks to heal and may leave scarring. Herpetiform ulcers, named due to their resemblance to herpes sores, consist of clusters of multiple small ulcers and can be extremely painful.

Common Symptoms of Mouth Ulcers in Children

The primary symptom of a mouth ulcer is the sore itself, which can be easily spotted inside a child’s mouth. These sores are often accompanied by a burning or tingling sensation before they appear. Once formed, they can cause considerable discomfort, especially when eating, drinking, or brushing teeth. In some cases, children might experience swollen lymph nodes, fever, or a general feeling of malaise, although these are less common.

Parents should be observant of their child’s behaviour, as younger children might not be able to articulate their discomfort. Increased irritability, refusal to eat, and excessive drooling can be indicators of mouth ulcers in younger children.

Identifying the Signs: What Parents Should Look For

Early identification of mouth ulcers can lead to quicker relief for the child. Parents should look for small, round, or oval sores inside the mouth, often with a white, yellow, or grey centre. These sores are typically surrounded by a bright red border. It’s essential to differentiate between mouth ulcers and other oral conditions like cold sores, which appear outside the mouth and are caused by the herpes virus.

If you suspect your child has a mouth ulcer, gently examine their mouth using a clean finger or a small torch for a better view. However, be cautious not to cause further discomfort.

The Causes Behind Mouth Ulcers in Children

The exact cause of mouth ulcers in children can vary, but they are often attributed to minor injuries inside the mouth, such as from biting the cheek, sharp food, or aggressive brushing. Stress is also a contributing factor and can trigger the appearance of ulcers in some children.

Dietary factors can play a role, too. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, such as B12, iron, and folic acid, have been linked to the development of mouth ulcers. Some children may develop ulcers as a reaction to certain foods or additives.

In rare cases, mouth ulcers can be a symptom of an underlying health condition. Diseases such as coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or immune system disorders can manifest mouth ulcers as a symptom. Therefore, if mouth ulcers are recurrent or particularly severe, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for further investigation.

Impact on Daily Activities: Eating, Speaking, and More

Mouth ulcers can significantly impact a child’s daily activities. The pain and discomfort caused by these ulcers can make everyday activities like eating, drinking, and speaking challenging. Children might avoid certain foods, particularly those that are acidic, spicy, or crunchy, as these can aggravate the pain. This avoidance can lead to nutritional imbalances if not monitored.

The discomfort can also affect a child’s ability to speak clearly, especially if the ulcers are located on the tongue or near the lips. This can be frustrating for the child and may impact their social interactions and communication.

Younger children who are unable to communicate their discomfort may become more irritable, cry more often, or refuse to eat, leading to dehydration and nutritional deficiencies if not addressed promptly. It’s crucial for parents and caregivers to recognise these signs and provide appropriate care and comfort.

Home Remedies and Management

Managing mouth ulcers in children primarily involves alleviating discomfort and promoting healing. Simple home remedies can be remarkably effective in achieving this. One of the first steps is to ensure that the child avoids foods that can irritate the ulcer, such as spicy, acidic, or crunchy foods. Instead, offer them soft, bland foods that are easier to eat.

Rinsing the mouth with a mild saltwater solution can help soothe the sore area. This can be done by dissolving a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water. It’s important to remind children to spit out the solution after rinsing. For older children, over-the-counter topical treatments like oral gels or mouthwashes designed for mouth ulcers can provide relief. These products often contain an antiseptic or a local anaesthetic to reduce pain and prevent infection.

Maintaining good oral hygiene is crucial, even when dealing with mouth ulcers. Encourage gentle brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush and avoid toothpastes that contain sodium lauryl sulphate, as this can irritate the ulcers.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While most mouth ulcers in children are harmless and will heal without the need for medical treatment, there are instances when it is advisable to seek professional advice. If the ulcers persist for more than two weeks, keep recurring, or are particularly large or painful, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional. Additionally, if the child experiences high fever, difficulty in swallowing or drinking, or if there’s an unusual increase in the number of ulcers, these could be signs of a more serious underlying condition.

In Australia, the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons provides guidelines on when to seek dental or medical advice for oral health concerns, including persistent mouth ulcers.

Prevention Strategies for Mouth Ulcers in Children

Preventing mouth ulcers involves addressing the potential causes and triggers. Ensuring a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals can help, particularly incorporating foods high in B12, iron, and folic acid. Encouraging children to drink plenty of water and maintain good oral hygiene can also reduce the risk of ulcers.

It’s also important to help children manage stress, as it can be a significant trigger for mouth ulcers. Regular physical activity, sufficient sleep, and relaxation techniques can be beneficial in managing stress levels in children.

Additionally, teaching children to be cautious when eating hard or sharp foods and to avoid biting the insides of their cheeks or lips can help prevent the minor injuries that often lead to ulcers.

Dental and Medical Resources in Australia

For Australian families, there are several resources available for information and support regarding oral health. The Australian Dental Association offers comprehensive guidance on a range of dental health issues, including the management of mouth ulcers. They also provide a directory of dental professionals across the country for easy access to local care.

Similarly, the Australian Government’s Department of Health website provides valuable information on oral health and preventative care, ensuring that parents have access to the latest and most reliable health advice.

In conclusion, while mouth ulcers in children can be a source of discomfort, they are generally not a cause for serious concern. Understanding the symptoms, causes, and effective management strategies can greatly help in alleviating discomfort and preventing future occurrences. For parents seeking further advice or treatment, especially in more severe or persistent cases, consulting with dental professionals is recommended.

In the Sydney area, Balmain Dentists offer a comprehensive range of dental services, including expert care in managing oral health issues in children. Our experienced team is committed to providing gentle and effective treatment, ensuring the oral health and comfort of your child.

Remember, the key to managing mouth ulcers effectively lies in early identification, appropriate care, and preventative measures. With the right approach, you can help your child navigate through this discomfort with ease and confidence.


1. What are the most common symptoms of mouth ulcers in children?

The most common symptoms include small, round sores inside the mouth, often with a white, yellow, or grey centre and a red border. Children may experience pain, especially when eating or drinking, a tingling or burning sensation near the affected area, and in some cases, swollen lymph nodes and fever.

2. How can I help alleviate my child’s discomfort from a mouth ulcer?

You can help alleviate discomfort by encouraging your child to rinse their mouth with a mild saltwater solution, offering them soft, bland foods to avoid irritation, and ensuring they maintain good oral hygiene with gentle brushing. For older children, over-the-counter topical treatments like oral gels can also provide relief.

3. Are mouth ulcers in children a cause for concern?

Most mouth ulcers are harmless and will heal on their own within 1-2 weeks. However, if the ulcers are unusually large, persist for more than two weeks, recur frequently, or are accompanied by high fever and difficulty swallowing, it’s advisable to seek medical attention.

4. Can diet affect mouth ulcers in children?

Yes, diet can play a role. Deficiencies in vitamins such as B12, iron, and folic acid can contribute to the development of mouth ulcers. Additionally, certain foods that are acidic, spicy, or too hot can irritate existing ulcers. Ensuring a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients can help in prevention and recovery.

5. When should I take my child to a dentist for a mouth ulcer?

You should consider taking your child to a dentist if the ulcer does not heal within two weeks, if it is causing severe pain that hinders eating and drinking, or if there are multiple ulcers present. Dentists can provide specific treatments and check for any underlying oral health issues. In Australia, dental professionals like those at Balmain Dentists are well-equipped to handle such concerns.