Canker Sores (Aphthous Ulcers) in Children
What are canker sores in children?
Canker sores (aphthous ulcers) are small sores inside the mouth. They are often found
inside the lips, on the back part of the roof of the mouth (soft palate), on the cheeks,
or on the tongue.
What causes canker sores in a child?
Experts don't know the exact cause. But many factors are thought to play a role with
the development of canker sores. These are:
Weakened immune system
Allergies to food, such as coffee, chocolate, cheese, nuts, and citrus fruits
Viruses and bacteria
Irritation from orthodontic braces
Canker sores are often first seen in children and teens between ages 10 and 19. For
about 3 in 10 children affected, canker sores come back for years after the first
outbreak. They can’t be spread from 1 child to another.
Canker sores that keep coming back may be linked to celiac disease, inflammatory bowel
disease, or HIV infection.
What are the symptoms of canker sores in a child?
Each child may feel symptoms a bit differently. Below are the most common symptoms
of aphthous stomatitis:
Painful sores in the mouth, often inside the lips, on the cheeks, or on the tongue
Sores that are white or gray with a red border
Trouble eating or talking because of the sores
No fever (in most cases)
Canker sores often heal in 7 to 14 days. They tend to come back.
How are canker sores diagnosed in a child?
Your child’s healthcare provider can often make a diagnosis with a full health history
and a physical exam. But your child may also need these tests to rule out other causes:
How are canker sores treated in a child?
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also
depend on how severe the condition is.
The goal of treatment is to help ease symptoms. Treatment may include:
Drinking more fluids
Taking acetaminophen for any fever or pain
Getting proper oral hygiene
Using medicines on the skin to help ease the pain of the sores
Using mouth rinses to help with the pain
Your child may feel better by not eating spicy, salty, or acidic foods. These foods
may make the mouth more irritated.
When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?
Call your child’s healthcare provider if the sores:
Key points about canker sores in children
Canker sores are small white or gray sores with a red border that are seen in the
They are often found inside the lips, on the cheeks, or on the tongue.
Experts don't know the exact cause. But they may be linked to things such as food
allergies, stress, poor nutrition, or certain medicines.
The sores are different from other sores. They are often diagnosed simply with a physical
Treatment may include oral medicine or medicine for the skin to ease pain. Antibiotics
may be prescribed for secondary infections.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.