Mouth Ulcers  

This Care Guide Covers:

  • Painful, shallow ulcers (sores) on the lining of the mouth
  • Found on the gums, inner lips, inner cheeks, or tongue
  • Sores only on the outer lips (such as cold sores) are not covered

If not, see these topics
View images
Canker Sore on Inner Lower Lip
Canker Sore on Inner Lower Lip

Chickenpox Sores in Mouth
Chickenpox Sores in Mouth

When to Call Your Doctor

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
  • Not moving or too weak to stand
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Chemical in the mouth could have caused ulcers
  • Dehydration suspected. (No urine in over 8 hours, dark urine, very dry mouth and no tears)
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • 4 or more ulcers
  • Bloody crusts on the lips
  • Red, swollen and tender gums
  • Ulcers and sores also on the outer lips
  • One ulcer on the gum near a tooth with a toothache
  • Fever or swollen face
  • Large lymph node under the jaw
  • Began after starting a medicine
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Mouth ulcers last more than 2 weeks
Parent Care at Home If
  • Canker sores suspected
Causes & Health Information

Causes

  • Canker Sores. The main cause of 1 or 2 mouth ulcers after age 5.
  • Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease. The most common cause of multiple ulcers in the mouth. These ulcers are mainly on the tongue and sides of the mouth. Due to the Coxsackie virus. It is common between ages 1 to 5 years.
  • Herpes Virus (Cold sore virus). The first infection can be severe. It can cause 10 or more ulcers on the gums, tongue and lips. Key findings are additional ulcers on the outer lips or skin around the mouth. Also, fever and difficulty swallowing. Usually occurs age 1 to 3.

Return to School

  • Canker sores cannot be spread to others.¬†Children with fever need to be checked before going back to school. Also, children with many mouth ulcers should be checked before returning.
CARE ADVICE FOR CANKER SORES (HARMLESS MOUTH ULCERS)

  1. Canker sores are the #1 cause of mouth ulcers:
    • 1 to 3 painful, white ulcers of the inner cheeks, inner lip or gums (no fever).
    • Causes include injuries from rough food, tooth brushes, biting, or food irritants.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Liquid Antacid for Mouth Pain:
    • For mouth pain, use a liquid antacid such as Mylanta or the store brand. Give 4 times per day as needed. After meals often is a good time. Age: For children over 1 year old.
    • For children over age 6, can use 1 teaspoon (5 ml) as a mouth wash. Keep it on the ulcers as long as possible. Then can spit it out or swallow it.
    • For younger children age 1 to 6, put a few drops in the mouth. Can also put it on with a cotton swab.
    • Caution: Do not use regular mouth washes, because they sting.
  3. Pain Medicine:
    • To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Use as needed. See Dose Table.
  4. Fluids and Soft Diet :  
    • Try to get your child to drink adequate fluids.
    • Goal: keep your child well hydrated.
    • Cold drinks, milk shakes, popsicles, slushes, and sherbet are good choices.
    • Solids. Offer a soft diet. Also avoid foods that need much chewing. Avoid citrus, salty, or spicy foods. Note: Fluid intake is more important than eating any solids.
    • For infants, you may need to stop the bottle. Give fluids by cup, spoon or syringe instead. Reason: The nipple can increase the pain.
  5. Return to School:
    • Canker sores cannot be spread to others.
    • Children with fever need to be checked before going back to school.
    • Also, children with many mouth ulcers should be checked before going back.
  6. What to Expect:
    • They heal up in 1 to 2 weeks on their own.
    • Once they occur, no treatment can shorten the illness.
    • Treatment can help with the pain.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Mouth ulcers last more than 2 weeks
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
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Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/1/2012

Last Revised: 12/15/2012

Content Set: Child Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.