Gingivostomatitis in Children

Gingivostomatitis (GM) is a common infection of the mouth and gums caused by bacteria, improper care of your teeth and mouth, or a virus. The main symptoms are mouth swelling and lesions in the mouth that resemble canker sores. GM is especially common among children and infected children may drool and refuse to eat or drink because of the discomfort from the sores. They may also develop fever and swollen lymph nodes. Read on to learn the causes of this condition and how you can treat it.

What Causes Gingivostomatitis in Children?

Gingivostomatitis is the name for a condition that results in a very sore mouth and symptoms range from mild to severe. While it is disturbing to see painful sores in your child’s mouth, usually there is no reason to worry.

Your child’s GM may be her initial infection with the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which most people get in early childhood. The initial infection may go unnoticed – but if it does make itself known – it takes the form of GM. GM can also be caused by the Coxsackie virus and herpangina.

What Are the Symptoms of Gingivostomatitis in Children?

GM sores are small (about 1 to 5 millimeters in diameter), red around the edges, and gray or yellow in the middle. Your child may have sores on the gums, tongues, tonsils, inside the cheeks, and the back of the mouth. The severity and location of the sores depends on the virus causing GM and your child’s gums may be swollen and bleed.

Because GM sores are painful, your child can be irritable, may drool a lot, and will not eat or drink much. A child may also have a high fever – up to 104 degrees – and bad breath and the lymph nodes can be swollen and tender. In rare cases, GM caused by herpes can spread to the eye, infect the cornea, and cause permanent eye damage. Take your child to the doctor immediately if his or her eyes look watery, red, or are sensitive to light.

How to Treat Gingivostomatitis in Children

No special tests are usually needed to diagnose GM, but the doctor may take a tiny piece of tissue from the sore to check for bacteria or virus infection. A biopsy may be done to rule out other types of mouth ulcers. Because GM is a viral infection, antibiotics cannot help it. Here are a few things you can do to make your child comfortable and keep him or her healthy while she has it. The sores will go way in one to two weeks.

1. Fever and Pain Relief

To lower a fever and reduce pain, give your child ibuprofen or children’s acetaminophen. If the pain is severe, your doctor may prescribe a stronger painkiller. However, never give your child (or anyone under 20) because aspirin can cause Reye’s syndrome, a rare and life threatening condition.

2. Hydration—Drink Properly

To avoid dehydration – a risk from GM – be sure to keep your child well hydrated and give your child non-acidic drinks and avoid soda. Milkshakes, cold water, and diluted apple juice are good drinks to give your child. Call your doctor immediately if your child does not urinate or drink for six hours or shows any sign of dehydration.

3. Feeding—Eat Proper Foods

Soft bland (non-spicy) foods may decrease discomfort during eating. Examples include mashed potatoes and applesauce. Ice cream and frozen yogurt are also good foods to feed your child as they don’t need to be chewed and are soothing to the mouth.

4. Avoiding Spreading the Virus

Help keep your child from spreading the virus and do your best to keep your child's hand away from his or her mouth while he or she has active sores. Tell your child not to rub his eyes so that the eyes don’t get infected.

Practice good oral hygiene and brush the gums well and thoroughly to reduce the risk of getting another infection.

How to Prevent Gingivostomatitis in Children

Because many adults and children carry the herpes virus, and can pass it (and the Coxsackie virus) on even if they show no symptoms, there is no practical way to prevent GM. However, try to keep your child from kissing, sharing food, or playing in close contact with people who have an active herpes infection or other mouth sores. To protect others, your child should do the same during the course of her illness. If your child’s GM is caused by the herpes virus, it will stay in his or her body for life. Usually, the first episode of GM is the worst, and it most likely will not be frequent in later years.

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