What Causes Canker Sores In Children And How To Treat Them

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What Are Canker Sores?

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Also called “aphthous ulcers,” canker sores are one of the most common types of mouth sores. They can happen in kids and adults of any age. Canker sores can develop on the lips, gums, your tongue, the roof of the mouth, the area below the tongue, and the cheeks.

The main thing that makes canker sores distinct from other mouth sores is their yellowish or whitish center, accompanied by a red, inflamed border. Canker sores are usually very small, with most being less than one millimeter in diameter. However, they can be larger in some cases.

There are actually two types of canker sores, too. They're split into “simple” and “complex” canker sores. Simple canker sores are the most common. They may happen 3-4 times a year, they last about a week, and they usually affect people from the ages of 10-20 years. These are the canker sores most kids will get.

Complex canker sores are less common. However, they are larger, last longer, and are more painful. In fact, they can be so painful that they can interfere with eating and drinking. Complex canker sores may last up to a month, and may even leave a scar after they heal. 

The good news is that complex canker sores are rare in healthy kids, since they usually occur due to underlying autoimmune issues, nutritional deficiencies, and other complex health issues.

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What Causes Canker Sores?

The short answer? We don’t know. Doctors and dentists still aren’t sure exactly why canker sores develop, or why they're more common in some people than others. The exact mechanism of canker sore development isn’t known.

However, there are some triggers and contributing factors that are known to contribute to canker sore formation. A few of these factors for simple canker sores include:

  • Stress
  • Oral injuries, such as cuts to the inside of your mouth
  • Consumption of very acidic foods such as lemons, limes, and other citruses
  • Regular use of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like naproxen and ibuprofen
  • Wearing certain dental appliances, such as braces

Complex canker sores are a bit different. They're thought to be caused by some other medical condition such as allergies or nutritional deficiencies like iron, B-12, zinc, or folic acid deficiency. Autoimmune diseases like lupus, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease are also thought to contribute to the formation of complex canker sores.

Though they can affect kids and adults of any age, canker sores are the most common in teens and people in their early 20s. Canker sores are also more common in women than men. Doctors are not sure exactly why, but this is thought to be related to hormonal changes in women. 

How Long Does It Take For Canker Sores To Go Away?

Simple canker sores usually go away within two weeks, even without any kind of treatment. And after the first few days, pain and discomfort usually get much better. Once they start to go away, your child’s canker sores will cause a lot less pain.

How Can I Treat My Child’s Canker Sores?

In most cases, your goal should be to relieve your child’s pain and discomfort. There’s not much you can do to get the canker sore to go away faster, so you should focus on treating your child’s symptoms. 

For example, you can use an over-the-counter topical anesthetic like Orajel to numb the area. However, if your child is under two years old, you should not use Orajel or any other numbing product that contains benzocaine, as this could cause a rare but serious blood condition called methemoglobinemia.

Swishing with salt water is another common at-home remedy for canker sores. You can mix one teaspoon of salt into a half-cup of warm water, then have your child swish the salt water in their mouth for 15-30 seconds. This may cause a little bit of discomfort, but helps dry out the sore and prevent further swelling.

If your child’s canker sore is particularly large, painful, or lasts a long time, you may also want to consult with your pediatric dentist or your child’s pediatrician for further treatment. Depending on the severity of your child’s canker sore, they may prescribe an antibiotic mouth rinse, antibiotic medication, or an ointment containing corticosteroids. These products can help relieve pain and discomfort and help speed up your child’s recovery.

When Should I See My Child See A Doctor About Their Canker Sore?

As a rule, canker sores are nothing to worry about, and they’ll go away with time. However, there are a few situations where you may want to take your child to see a dentist or a pediatrician for canker sore treatment. 

You should take your child to a doctor if their canker sores look abnormally large, if they last longer than two weeks, or if their canker sores are so painful that they interfere with drinking, eating, and other day-to-day activities. You also should see a doctor if your child also has a high fever, or if their canker sores seem to be spreading.

Can Canker Sores Be Prevented?

Since we don’t know exactly what causes them, there’s no sure-fire way to prevent canker sores 100% of the time. But we do know that a few things help. First, good oral hygiene helps prevent the formation of canker sores. Make sure your child brushes at least twice a day for two minutes, using fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. 

If your child tends to get a lot of canker sores, we also recommend reducing their intake of salty, acidic, and spicy foods and drinks. This may help prevent canker sore formation. You may also want to talk with your child’s doctor about their nutrition to ensure they do not have any nutritional deficiencies, which are a common contributing factor to canker sore formation.

Worried About Canker Sores In South Austin? Get Help From Kids Tooth Team!

At Kids Tooth Team, we specialize in pediatric dentistry in Buda and South Austin. If you’re worried about your child’s canker sores, we can provide the treatment they need to deal with pain and discomfort, and ensure they recover quickly and can get back to their day-to-day routine. So don’t wait. Book an appointment online or give us a call at (512) 523-4774 to schedule a consultation, and get the help your little one needs from Dr. Alex right away.

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