What is Trench Mouth?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2019
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Trench mouth is a painful type of gingivitis. It received its name because it was so common among soldiers in World War I. Stuck in the trenches for long periods of time, they were unable to practice proper dental hygiene. The result was very often pain and infected, bleeding, swollen, and ulcerated gums. Most commonly seen in people who are under the age of 35, trench mouth is rare in developed countries.

Also called Vincent’s stomatitis, trench mouth is most likely to occur in individuals with poor nutrition and severely impoverished living conditions. Its symptoms can include painful, red, bleeding gums. The pain may be worse upon eating and swallowing and gums may bleed when just a tiny amount of pressure is exerted on them. A person with trench mouth may have a gray film on his or her gums and crater-like sores may develop. These symptoms may be accompanied by fever, a foul-tasting mouth, halitosis, and swollen lymph nodes.

Trench mouth develops when bacteria, normally present in the mouth, are allowed to grow out of control. It is this overabundance of harmful bacteria that is responsible for the infection of the gums. In turn, the infection damages gum tissue. Bacteria-filled ulcers develop, often containing bits of food and deteriorating tissue. No one knows for certain how the bacteria destroy the gum tissue, but the damage can be significant.


Trench mouth can be diagnosed through a simple dental exam. In some cases, x-rays are necessary to determine the amount of tissue destruction the condition has caused, as well as to detect the level of existing infection. Sometimes blood tests are required to determine whether or not the infection has spread to other parts of the body. For example, the infection could result in a potentially fatal condition called necrotizing stomatitis. This condition is most prevalent in people with compromised immune systems.

Treatment of trench mouth is usually effective, lasting just a couple of weeks. Antibiotics are often used to destroy bacteria, as well as to prevent the spread of infection. Doctors may also prescribe pain relievers or suggest the use of over-the-counter medications. Topical pain relievers may be prescribed as well. The resumption of regular brushing and flossing is one of the most important parts of treating trench mouth; without proper oral hygiene, the condition is likely to recur.


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