What is Herpetic Gingivostomatitis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 February 2020
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Herpetic gingivostomatitis is a series of lesions in the soft tissues of the mouth and around the lips which are caused by the herpes simplex virus type one, also known as HSV-I. This virus is related to the sexually transmitted version of the herpes virus, except that it is generally transmitted through contact with saliva from infected individuals. HSV-I cannot be cured, but usually after the first bout of herpetic gingivostomatitis, patients experience much more mild symptoms in the future.

This virus causes blisters to develop in the mouth. They can rupture and cause ulcerations. The patient usually runs a fever and the gums may become red and inflamed, sometimes bleeding occurs as a result of the inflammation. Herpetic gingivostomatitis is painful and the early signs of the infection in children can include restlessness, difficulty feeding, and crying. Once the lesions are present the patient may drool, be irritable, and have swollen lymph nodes.


Antiviral drugs can be prescribed during the first outbreak, but generally the recommended treatment is to focus on supportive care. This includes providing fluids to keep the patient hydrated and offering age appropriate antiinflammatory drugs to manage the inflammation. Children with active herpetic gingivostomatitis should also be reminded to wash their hands regularly and to avoid touching their eyes after touching their mouths, because this can spread the infection. Future outbreaks will usually be limited to one or two lesions which appear occasionally when the immune system is stressed, because the virus lurks inside the body.

Outbreaks of herpetic gingivostomatitis are usually seen in infants and toddlers. Children commonly become infected by sharing toys and space with children who have the virus, and it is a very common pediatric infection. A pediatrician can usually identify it with a quick visual examination. The infection is passed from person to person very easily, although encouraging children to exercise proper hygiene can reduce the spread of the virus.

The administration of drugs to numb the mouth is generally not recommended, because it can interfere with speaking and swallowing. If a child has extremely painful sores, a pediatrician may be able to provide some prescription medications to manage the pain. It is important to make sure that oral hygiene is observed, even if it is painful. Soothing mouthwashes can sometimes help to address the pain, itching, and irritation. Generally herpetic gingivostomatitis lasts around two weeks and providing the patient with as much supportive treatment as possible will help him or her heal quickly.


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Post 3

Herpetic gingivostomatitis in children can be transmitted by using contaminated utensils, playing with contaminated toys, playing with any infected surface it seems. What a bummer that kids seem to put everything in their mouths! I know my daughter is always chewing on whatever she can get her hands on.

Day cares are a notorious setting for spreading this virus. This makes it even harder to find a good day care! What do we do, go in with a kit to swab surfaces and send it to a lab?

I guess we just have to be super vigilant in teaching our kids the importance of cleanliness and not putting everything in their mouths.

Post 2

@jellies- Unfortunately, herpes simplex virus type one can be transmitted to a baby during delivery. If any expecting mothers are concerned about this, make sure to talk to your obstetrician.

It is not a guarantee that you will pass this to your child if you have it, but there is a definite risk. Acute herpetic gingivostomatitis can appear in a couple days to about two weeks after exposure. After that, it is not unusual for outbreaks to come up again.

Post 1

Wow, I had now idea there was a common strain of herpes in children! One more thing for this mom to worry about. I try to instill good hygiene practices in my kids, and this is one more very compelling reason to do so.

Here I was concerned about sharing germs that spread colds. I will be talking to my pediatrician about this, as it has raised some questions for me.

I don’t think there is much awareness about this disease in the mothers I know. Is this strain of herpes one that a mother can pass to her child during pregnancy or delivery?

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