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Mouth Infection, Viral (Gingivostomatitis)

What is gingivostomatitis?

Gingivostomatitis is an infection of the mouth and lips. It most commonly affects toddlers and young children, but older children can also get this infection.

What is the cause?

Gingivostomatitis is caused by a virus called herpes simplex virus type 1, or HSV1. This is a different kind of herpes virus than the kind that is usually sexually transmitted.

The infection is passed from person to person through contact with saliva that contains the virus. It can spread, for example, by sharing utensils, cups, and bottles; thumb sucking; and putting toys in the mouth. Often it may spread from someone who has cold sores.

What are the symptoms?

The illness usually starts with a fever before the first sores appear in the mouth. Sores may form on the lips, gums, tongue, and cheeks. Often the gums are very red and bleed easily.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child.

How is it treated?

Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe an antiviral medicine called acyclovir to help the sores go away more quickly.

Fever and mouth pain can be treated with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Do NOT give your child aspirin. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.

The fever usually lasts for a few days. The painful mouth sores last 3 to 5 days before they start to get better. It will take about 14 days before the sores completely heal.

After the mouth sores heal, the virus stays in the body and can become active again. If the infection does come back, usually the sores are not as severe. Sores that return on the lips are called cold sores.

How can I take care of my child?

Your child may get dehydrated if the sores keep your child from drinking. Your child will start urinating less and the mouth will get dry. You can help prevent dehydration by giving your child plenty of fluids. Chicken broth, sports drinks, or Popsicles are good examples of fluids that your child may drink easily.

Don’t give your child medicines that make the mouth numb. They may cause the child to swallow incorrectly and choke.

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

Ask your child’s healthcare provider:

  • How long it will take your child to recover
  • What activities your child should avoid
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when you should bring your child back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent gingivostomatitis?

It can be hard to keep babies and toddlers from getting exposed to the virus. Try to avoid contact with people who have cold sores and don’t share eating or drinking utensils. Good handwashing also helps to lessen the chance that a virus will pass from person to person.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-02-13
Last reviewed: 2013-01-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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