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Red Gums on Toddlers & Unable to Eat

author image Melissa McNamara
Melissa McNamara is a certified personal trainer who holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and communication studies from the University of Iowa. She writes for various health and fitness publications while working toward a Bachelor of Science in nursing.
Red Gums on Toddlers & Unable to Eat
Brushing your toddler's teeth can prevent problems in the future. Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

Gum disease is thought to be a problem only adults face, but toddlers are just as susceptible to gingivitis if poor dental hygiene is practiced in the household. Most children have some degree of gingivitis, according to the American Academy of Peridontology. However, a viral infection can also affect your toddler’s gums and make eating uncomfortable. Always consult with your dentist if your toddler’s gums are red and the pain keeps him from eating.


If your toddler’s gums bleed easily while brushing her teeth, gingivitis is a common cause. Gingivitis can also cause swelling and inflammation of the gum line. Your child’s gums may only bother her while eating, because the gums are tender to touch with gingivitis, but otherwise the early stage of gingivitis is painless. The gums may also be shiny. If gingivostomatitis is causing the redness, the symptoms include inflamed gums with small gray sores that are red around their edges. Sores can be present on both the soft and hard palates of your toddler’s mouth. Eating and drinking is painful with gingivostomatitis.

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The most common cause of gingivitis is poor oral hygiene, which is caused by sticky bacteria called plaque not being removed from the teeth and forming into tartar. Plaque and tartar cause inflammation of the gums. Gingivitis is also genetic and can be passed from person to person through saliva. Toddlers who grind their teeth are also at risk of gingivitis. Gingivostomatitis is caused by a virus, such as herpes simplex virus type 1 or coxsackie virus. Coxsackie virus is also responsible for hand, foot and mouth disease, as well as herpangina.


Gingivitis caught in the toddler years is likely the initial stage of gum disease, so a professional dental cleaning should be done every six months or more frequently for more severe cases of gingivitis. Since your toddler’s gums are painful, the removal of plaque around the gum line can further irritate the gums, but this tenderness improves within two weeks. Brush your child’s teeth with a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste in the morning after breakfast and in the evening before bedtime to remove bacteria and debris from the teeth. Ibuprofen can reduce pain from his gums while he eats. There is no treatment for gingivostomatitis, but pain can also be relieved with ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Your toddler’s doctor may prescribe a stronger pain reliever if over-the-counter methods do not improve his ability to eat. Popsicles, ice-cream, slushies and cold water are soothing to a toddler with gingivostomatitis.


Once your toddler’s gums are pink and healthy, still make sure to brush her teeth at least twice per day. Take your toddler to the dentist twice per year for preventative measures against gingivitis instead of only taking her to the dentist when something is wrong. If you know a person has a cold sores, canker sores, frequent bad breath, receding teeth or red gums, do not allow your child to kiss or share eating utensils with this person to decrease her risk of gingivitis and gingivostomatitis. Frequent and thorough hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of viruses.

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