Canker sores are sometimes very painful and can develop in children as well as adults. But what exactly is a canker sore? Canker sores can develop on the inside of the cheeks or on the tongue and will look a bit like a small painful sore spot that can be white, grey or yellow colored with a red rim. They can last up to a couple of weeks before they heal and often affect teenagers but may develop in children as young as age 2. Canker sores are very different from cold sores that tend to form on the outside of the lips. Unlike cold sores, canker sores aren’t caused by a virus and they aren’t contagious.
This is a bit of a mystery as nobody is quite sure why some kids get canker sores while others don’t. It’s unknown as to why they develop but they have been linked to stress or some sort of irritation inside the mouth, for instance eating or drinking very hot foods or rough foods such as corn chips. Sometimes spicy foods can provoke an attack, but if your child often has cold sores then it may be worth asking your pediatrician for advice as very occasionally they may be a symptom of a food allergy or a deficiency in iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid. Interestingly, an ingredient found in many toothpastes has been linked to canker sores and this is sodium lauryl sulfate, an ingredient that helps toothpaste to foam up so if your kid does suffer from frequent canker sores in might be useful for them to use a toothpaste that doesn’t contain this ingredient..
If your kid only has a minor canker sore then they probably won’t need any treatment as the sore should heal in a week or two. However, if the sore is painful or irritating then a warm salt water rinse could help to soothe it just make sure your kid doesn’t swallow this mixture. Another solution is to use a paste of baking soda and water which can be applied directly to the sores after meals. Some kids find a small amount of milk of magnesia to be soothing as this can be dabbed onto the sore several times a day, promoting healing while easing pain. Age-appropriate over-the-counter painkillers may also help.
If the sore is very painful then it could be worth booking an appointment with one of our pediatric dentists. We might be able to prescribe a topical medicine or a special type of mouthwash to help the sores to heal.
Making sure that your child avoids eating highly abrasive foods that could irritate the gums and the inside of their mouth can help avoid any attacks. It might also pay to make sure they stay away from very spicy or acidic foods or foods that are very salty. They should use a soft toothbrush bristles and it’s worth checking that your kid isn’t brushing too hard as this could irritate their gums. They can always give additional advice on brushing techniques if required. The good news is that most times canker sores aren’t a huge problem and is your kid gets older they may well begin to outgrow them.