Join for Just $16 A Year
- Discounts on travel and everyday savings
- Subscription to AARP The Magazine
- Free membership for your spouse or partner
Trench mouth is a severe gum infection caused by a buildup of bacteria in the mouth. It is characterized by painful, bleeding gums and ulcers in the gums.
Your mouth naturally contains a balance of healthy bacteria, fungi, and viruses. However, poor dental hygiene can cause harmful bacteria to grow. Red, sensitive, and bleeding gums are symptoms of a condition known as gingivitis. Trench mouth is a rapidly progressing form of gingivitis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the term “trench mouth” can be traced back to World War I, when it was common for soldiers to experience severe gum problems because they didn’t have access to dental care while in battle. It is formally known as Vincent’s stomatitis, acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis, or necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis(Mayo Clinic, 2010).
Though rare, trench mouth typically affects people between the ages of 15 and 35. It is most common in under-developed nations and areas with poor nutrition and living conditions.
Trench mouth is caused by an infection of the gums due to the overabundance of harmful bacteria.
Trench mouth has been linked to the following risk factors:
If left untreated, the infection worsens and damages gum tissue. This can lead to a host of problems, including possible ulcers and tooth loss.
Trench mouth has similar symptoms to gingivitis, but will progress more rapidly.
Symptoms of trench mouth include:
A dentist can usually diagnose trench mouth during an examination. He or she will look for the symptoms described above. Your dentist may gently prod your gums to see how easily they bleed when poked. He or she may also order X-rays to see if the infection has spread to the bone beneath your gums.
Along with a physical examination of your mouth, your doctor may check for other symptoms, such as fever or fatigue. In addition, he or she may draw your blood to check for other, possibly undiagnosed conditions. HIV infection and other immune problems can promote the growth of bacteria in your mouth.
With treatment, trench mouth can typically be cured in a matter of weeks. Treatment will include antibiotics to stop the infection from spreading further, pain relievers, professional cleaning from a dental hygienist, and proper ongoing oral hygiene.
Brushing and flossing your teeth thoroughly twice a day are imperative for controlling the symptoms of trench mouth. Warm salt water rinses and rinsing with hydrogen peroxide can ease the pain of inflamed gums and also help remove dead tissue.
Avoiding smoking and hot or spicy foods while your gums heal is also recommended.
Regular and effective dental care is crucial for preventing trench mouth from returning. While the condition rarely has serious side effects, ignoring symptoms can lead to potentially serious complications, such as:
To avoid complications of trench mouth, the following steps should be taken regularly:
Managing pain during the healing process is also key. Over-the-counter pain relievers are typically enough to control pain, but talk to your doctor if you encounter problems.
Written by: Brian Krans
Published on Sep 04, 2012
Updated on Feb 15, 2013
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.
From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.
Members get a free Rx card from AARP® Prescription Discounts provided by Catamaran.
Members get 10 free health tests from Walgreens Way to Well Health Tour with AARP®.
Members learn the ABCs of buying health insurance with Aetna’s 15-Minute Health Insurance Guide.
Caregiving can be a lonely journey, but AARP offers resources that can help.