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Canker sores are also called aphthous ulcers, and develop on the inside of the cheeks, lips and throat, and occasionally on the tongue. Canker sores are different from cold sores which are caused by the herpes simplex virus and which develop on the outside of the mouth. Whereas cold sores are extremely contagious, canker sores are not contagious at all.

Why Do Canker Sores Develop?

Even though canker sores are not contagious, a history of outbreaks can run in a family. If you develop canker sores quite frequently, then your child has a very good chance of getting them as well. The odds increase if both parents suffer from canker sores. It’s not known exactly why canker sores develop, but there are a number of factors that can increase the risk.

One of these factors is thought to be diet, as children who are deficient in vitamin B-12, folic acid and iron seem to be more likely to develop canker sores than children who do not have these vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Children who have food allergies are also more prone, and it’s quite possible that canker sores could indicate a child has a problem with their immune system.

Canker sores can develop due to mouth injuries, and even something as simple as brushing too hard can bring on an attack. Other habits such as biting the insides of the lips and cheeks may increase risk. It’s also thought that stress may be a factor, as a study found college students were more likely to develop canker sores during stressful times. Anyone can develop a canker sore, but it seems to affect people in their teens and early 20s, and girls are twice as likely to get them as boys, particularly at the beginning of their menstrual periods.

What Are the Symptoms of Canker Sores?

Canker sores develop as a small painful red spots that may be up to an inch across, but most are considerably smaller. Before the sore develops the area may tingle or burn. Once the canker sore has developed then it tends to swell up and burst in about one day before crusting over with a white or yellowish coating while the outside will develop a red halo effect. Sometimes just a single canker sore will develop, but it’s also possible for them to form small clusters.

Occasionally other symptoms may develop, such as swollen lymph nodes, fever and a feeling of being generally unwell. Canker sores generally take a couple of weeks to heal, with the first few days being the most painful. Most canker sores will heal up on their own, but if your child has sores that last for longer than two weeks or is unable to eat or drink because of the discomfort then contact your dentist. It’s also worth seeking professional help if they have more than two or three attacks per year.

How Are Canker Sores Diagnosed?

Your pediatric dentist will be able to diagnose canker sores through examining the inside of your child’s mouth. If these sores recur at frequent intervals then it’s possible your dentist will want additional tests carried out to look for food allergies or other allergies, immune system deficiencies, or nutritional deficiencies.

How Are Canker Sores Treated?

Canker sores can often be treated at home or with over-the-counter remedies containing eucalyptol, benzocaine and menthol. Dabbing milk of magnesia onto the canker sore can be helpful, as can applying a wet black teabag as this contains tannin, an astringent that may relieve the discomfort. These treatments need to be applied at frequent intervals but do help to reduce the pain, and can aid healing. It’s best to ask your dentist or pharmacist for more information on remedies to use, and your dentist may prescribe medicine that can be directly applied to the canker sore.

Can Canker Sores Be Prevented?

It’s not possible to prevent canker sores but you can try to manage any factors that increase the risk of them developing. It might be worth avoiding buying toothpaste that contains sodium laurel sulfate as this can increase the risk of canker sores developing. Avoid giving your child acidic or rough foods that could irritate the inside of their mouths. If they have recurring canker sores then ask your pediatrician about modifying their diet, or if there’s any possibility that medications may be causing an allergic reaction.

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