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How to Treat Children’s Canker Sores

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

What are canker sores?

Canker sores are small, shallow open wounds (or ulcers) in your mouth that can make eating and talking painful. Canker sores can happen at any time in a person’s life, but they usually begin showing up between the ages of 10 and 20 years old. They are fairly common — about 1 in 5 people get them on a regular basis.

What causes them?

No one knows exactly what causes canker sores. A minor injury to the inside of the mouth caused by vigorous brushing, sports mishaps or an accidental cheek bite seem to bring on canker sores. Other causes are thought to be:

  • Toothpastes and mouth rinses containing sodium lauryl sulfate

  • Food sensitivities, particularly to chocolate, strawberries, eggs, nuts, cheese, and spicy or acidic foods

  • A diet lacking in certain vitamins or minerals such as B-12, zinc, folate (folic acid) or iron

  • An allergic response to certain bacteria in your mouth

  • A reaction to stress

Canker sores can also run in families. That means if you or other immediate family members get canker sores, the genes your children share with them make it more likely that they will develop the sores too.

How can I prevent canker sores?

Canker sores often recur, but you may be able to reduce their frequency by following these tips:

  • Follow good oral hygiene habits –If your child suffers from canker sores, it’s important that they don’t stop caring for their teeth. Keeping your child’s mouth clean will prevent more sores from appearing and heal existing canker sores. If your child has a canker sore, he or she may not want to keep up with regular brushing and flossing during a flare-up because doing these things may be painful. Have your child brush with an extra-soft baby toothbrush and a child-safe toothpaste, avoiding the canker sore to make brushing less painful. After brushing, help, or have your child floss as many teeth as possible. For the time being, skip areas next to existing canker sores.

  • Protect their mouth – If your teen has braces or other dental appliances, ask your dentist about orthodontic waxes to cover sharp edges. Mouthguards may also help your sports-playing child.

  • Reduce stress – If your child’s canker sores seem to be triggered by stress, teach them to use stress-reduction techniques, such as deep breathing and mindfulness.

  • Watch what they eat – Your child may feel better by not eating spicy, salty, or acidic foods, which can irritate canker sores. When they have a canker sore, feed them a soft, bland diet — think scrambled eggs, oatmeal, Greek yogurt, macaroni and cheese, steamed vegetables, applesauce and pancakes

How can I help ease my child’s symptoms?

There are a handful of things you can do to help your child deal with the discomfort of canker sores:

  • Have them drink more fluids – cold beverages such as ice water, milk, and diluted grape juice are least likely to irritate the sores. Drinking through a straw may help with pain.

  • Give them acetaminophen or ibuprofen for any fever or pain. Never give a child aspirin without checking with your doctor first, as it is linked to Reye’s Syndrome.

  • Use over the counter, topical medicines to help ease the pain of the sores such as a child-safe oral numbing gel (canker sore medicine). Use a cotton swab to apply the medicine. If your child is under 2 years of age, ask your doctor if you can give your child numbing medicines.

  • Try using ice to numb the pain or have them eat popsicles or frozen juices (avoid citrus).

  • Use a salt water or baking soda rinse – To make a salt water rinse, dissolve 1 tsp (5 g) of salt in 1 cup (250 mL) of warm water. To make a baking soda rinse, dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1/2 cup warm water.

  • Have them swish and spit an alcohol-free, antimicrobial mouthwash if your child is old enough (age 2 and over).

Most canker sores go away on their own in a week or two. Check with us if your child has unusually large or painful canker sores or canker sores that don’t seem to heal.

Sources: WebMD, MayoClinic,, Cedars-Sinai, Colgate, Healthline

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