What is Stomatitis?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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Inflammation characterized by blister and lesion formation that affects the oral cavity is a condition known as stomatitis. Caused by a variety of factors, the onset of this type of oral inflammation is most frequently associated with exposure to the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Unlike canker sores, which are not contagious and often result from trauma to the affected tissue, the blisters associated with stomatitis exhibit unique characteristics. Those who develop this type of oral inflammation may experience a variety of signs and symptoms that generally impair their ability to eat or drink. Treatment for stomatitis is centered on alleviating discomfort and remedying the cause of the inflammation.

Angular stomatitis, also known as Cheilosis, is a form of oral inflammation that primarily affects the corners of an individual’s mouth. Forming in the presence of a nutritional deficiency, infection, or as the result of yeast or saliva accumulation, Cheilosis presents as moderate to severe tissue irritation initiated by blister formation that contributes to lesion development. Individuals with this form of inflammation often demonstrate difficulty opening their mouths and may experience bleeding when they expand their mouth. Bleeding results from the breaking of the scab-like material that forms in the corner of the mouth as the ulcerated tissue heals.


Herpetic stomatitis is an infection induced by exposure to the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Individuals may acquire this infectious condition during direct or indirect contact with an infected person. Due to the virus’ ubiquity, adults are considered to be common carriers of HSV and, essentially, immune to herpetic stomatitis. As a result, this infectious presentation of oral inflammation most often presents in children who have not acquired sufficient immunity to the virus.

Presentations of oral inflammation that are not related to the presence of infection or HSV are also common. Dentures that fit improperly, inadequate oral hygiene, and trauma to the epithelial cells that make up the mucous membrane, as occurs when consuming excessively hot beverages or foods, may also contribute to blister development and oral irritation. Additionally, allergic reactions to certain substances or the regular use of some medications may prompt the onset of non-infectious stomatitis symptoms.

The most common presentation of stomatitis is the formation of superficial ulcers within the oral cavity. Commonly manifesting on the tongue or inner cheeks, blisters initially manifest before rupturing and causing ulcer formation. Due to the discomfort associated with oral inflammation, also known as gingivostomatitis, symptomatic individuals may alter their eating and drinking habits, such as the way they chew or the types of beverages they consume. Some may be unable to swallow properly or might drool when drinking. Additional signs that may accompany gingivostomatitis include fever and inflamed gums.

Gingivostomatitis is easily recognized and may be diagnosed with a visual inspection of the affected area by a trained health care provider. The condition usually presents with patterned characteristics, such as swelling, pain, and ulcer formation, that normally do not necessitate additional testing. Only when symptoms are persistent or severe in presentation is additional testing performed, such as a viral culture swab to identify the cause for the chronic inflammation.

Treatment for infectious gingivostomatitis generally involves the administration of an antiviral medication, such as Zovirax. Individuals experiencing oral inflammation should avoid consuming heavily carbonated or acidic beverages that may cause further irritation and discomfort. Topical medications that contain numbing agents, such as lidocaine, may be utilized to alleviate the pain associated with this condition. Additionally, individuals with non-infectious manifestations of oral inflammation may alleviate irritation by remedying the underlying cause, such as avoiding known allergens or pursuing treatment to reduce denture-induced irritation.

Symptomatic individuals should make assertive efforts to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, which can occur in the presence of excessive oral discomfort. Those with active infection, especially children, should avoid both direct and indirect interpersonal contact for at least two weeks, or until symptoms have completely subsided. Individuals should take proactive measures to prevent the spread of infection, such as refraining from sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils. Those with herpetic infection-induced gingivostomatitis may possess an increased risk for the development of herpetic keratoconjunctivitis, a serious eye infection that adversely affects the cornea and may result in corneal scarring that can contribute to vision loss.


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