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Diagnosing your toddler’s mouth sores is ultimately your dentist’s or your child’s pediatrician’s job, but it helps to have some knowledge about mouth sores and the types of treatments available for your child.

Here’s how to determine whether that mouth sore your poor tot is nursing is a common malady or a cause for concern, as well as some tips for soothing your irritable child’s discomfort.

4 Types of Toddler Mouth Sores

Mouth sores, also known as ulcers, present in four ways. According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, canker sores are the most common type of mouth sore in children younger than 5 years old. Cold sores, hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), and mouth injuries can also cause sores.

  1. Canker sores, or aphthous ulcers, are round ulcers that develop inside your mouth’s soft tissue. They can be red, white or gray. Canker sores can be painful and disturb eating and sleeping, but they aren’t contagious. Canker sores usually last for seven to 14 days, reports the Mayo Clinic.
  2. Cold sores are contagious and appear as fluid-filled blisters. Upon a first outbreak, your tot may have a fever and appear lethargic and in pain, as well.
  3. Hand, foot and mouth disease typically presents as red blisters inside the mouth and on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It also involves a fever and lack of energy.
  4. Most mouth injuries and burns appear red in the beginning and turn white when healing.

Why Toddlers Get Mouth Sores

Unfortunately, toddlers are just as susceptible to mouth sores as adults. Canker sores, the most common type, can be caused by stress, lack of rest and immune disorders, though experts aren’t sure exactly why they occur.

Cold sores spring up both inside and outside the mouth. They typically appear around your child’s lips and the skin around their mouth. But upon a first outbreak, they can also appear inside the mouth.

Cold sores are a form of herpes simplex virus type 1, a contagious virus passed through contact. In children, cold sores are usually caused by transmission from an adult. So, hard as it may be to avoid cuddling your tot, be aware that if you think you have the virus, it’s best to refrain from that goodnight kiss when a sore is present. Likewise, speak to your doctor about breastfeeding if you think you’ve had an outbreak.

HFMD is similarly transmitted through a virus known as the coxsackievirus. Coxsackievirus occurs most commonly in children. It is passed through bodily fluids, direct contact or fecal matter, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HFMD is a minor ailment and should subside within a week.

Since cold sores and HFMD are very contagious, you’ll want to avoid direct contact with anyone who has active ulcers.

Injuries to the mouth are a common result of toddler activities. Brushing too hard can be one cause. A burn may be another if, for example, your toddler can’t wait to dive into that plate of hot pasta.

Treating Toddler Mouth Sores

Your doctor might recommend an antiviral medicine to hasten a cold sore’s healing. They may also do further testing on canker sores that are very large or ones that have taken an unusually long time to heal.

The keys to home comfort and care are cold foods, hydration, rest and letting the sore run its course. Check with your doctor about acetaminophen, ibuprofen and antacid dosages, all of which may alleviate discomfort. A small dab of witch hazel has also been known to help with inflammation and pain relief on soft tissues, but be sure to get your doctor’s feedback first.

When to Call a Doctor

If your tot is not moving, extremely weak, has swelling in their face, may have ingested a chemical or has a sore that appeared after taking medication, you should call your doctor right away, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital. Otherwise, show your child some extra TLC and take a wait-and-see approach.