Viral gingivostomatitis (mouth sores, sore gums)

Viral gingivostomatitis (mouth sores, sore gums)

Herpes simplex virus causes blisters or "cold sores" on your child's lips and mouth (viral gingivostomatitis). Anyone at any age can get herpes.

If your child has lots of mouth sores, eating and drinking may be difficult or painful. You need to make sure your child gets plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration.

Symptoms of herpes simplex are:

  • fever
  • lots of sores or ulcers over the lips inside the mouth or on the tongue
  • swollen gums that can bleed
  • swollen neck glands

Your child can spread this virus by mouth contact of any kind and skin-to-skin contact with an open sore on an infected person.

How to make your child more comfortable

  • Give your child extra liquids. Avoid acidic juices such as orange juice.
  • Give your child soft foods like soups, custard, Popsicles®, ice cream, pudding and yogurt.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) as needed for pain. Follow package instructions for your child's weight and age.
  • Treatment with an antiviral medicine in the first few days of the illness can reduce how severe it is and how long it lasts.

When to call your health care provider

Call your health care provider for an appointment if your child has:

  • any signs of dehydration:
    • dry mouth
    • no tears when crying
    • sunken eyes
    • lack of urination or a dry diaper for more than eight hours
    • unusual sleepiness or fussiness
  • has a severe case of herpes simplex and may need treatment with an antiviral medicine.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5, sixth edition, ped-ah-91554
First Published: 02/01/2010
Last Reviewed: 11/16/2022