Trench Mouth Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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What is Trench Mouth?

Trench mouth is an oral infection that causes swelling, inflammation, and ulcers in the gums. Painful, bleeding gums also characterize the condition.

Red, sensitive, and bleeding gums are side effects and symptoms of a condition called gingivitis. Trench mouth is a severe form of gingivitis.

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The term trench mouth originates back to World War I. During this period, it was common for soldiers to experience severe gum issues because they didn’t have access to dental care during battle.

While anyone can develop a trench mouth, it is most common in teenagers and younger adults. Trench mouth is a severe condition; however, it is rare. It is most likely to occur in people living in underdeveloped countries and areas with poor nutrition and living conditions.

If left untreated, the infection worsens and damages gum tissue. This damage can lead to various oral problems, including tooth loss.

What Causes Trench Mouth?

The mouth naturally contains a healthy balance of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. However, poor oral hygiene can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria. When there are high levels of pathogenic bacteria, trench mouth may develop. The gums become infected and painful ulcers grow.

Other factors that increase your risk of trench mouth include:

  • Emotional stress 
  • Poor oral hygiene 
  • Poor nutrition 
  • Smoking 
  • Weak immune system 
  • Throat, tooth, or mouth infections
  • HIV and AIDS diabetes

Symptoms of Trench Mouth

It’s essential to recognize trench mouth symptoms so you can receive timely treatment and prevent complications. While trench mouth symptoms and side effects compare to those of gingivitis, they often progress more quickly.

The symptoms of trench mouth include:

  • Extreme bad breath
  • Crater-like ulcers between the teeth 
  • Fever 
  • A foul taste in the mouth 
  • Red and swollen gums 
  • Gray film on the gums
  • Sore gums
  • Severe gum bleeding in response to pressure or irritation

How Is It Diagnosed?

A dentist or health care provider can usually diagnose trench mouth during an oral examination. They may gently prod your gums to check how easily they bleed when touched. They may also look for other trench mouth signs, such as crater-like ulcers and damaged or inflamed gums. Some people may also have a gray film in their mouth caused by broken down gum tissue.

Your health care provider will also arrange X-rays to assess whether the infection has spread to the bone beneath your gums.

Other symptoms may be evaluated, like fever, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue. They may also take a blood sample to assess for other undiagnosed conditions that may encourage bacteria's growth in your mouth. For example, you may be checked for HIV infection or other immune system issues.

Treatment for Trench Mouth

Trench mouth treatment aims to cure the condition and relieve symptoms. There are professional treatments for more severe cases, and you can also try home remedies. Because of the seriousness of this infection, it is unlikely that your condition will improve without a dentist’s intervention. Home remedies will not cure trench mouth.

To prevent complications of trench mouth, it’s essential to practice good oral hygiene. Flossing and brushing your teeth twice a day is recommended, especially following meals. For the best results, use an electric toothbrush.

You should also avoid tobacco products, including cigarettes, and irritants like spicy foods.

Professional Treatment

If you suffer from trench mouth, you need to visit a dentist or dental hygienist to have your teeth professionally cleaned. Many people are hesitant to have the teeth cleaning for fear that the gums are too sore. Your dentist can offer various ways to prevent pain during your cleaning. A professional clean is the only treatment that will effectively remove all of the bacterial buildup caused by trench mouth.

In some cases, you may need to have a numbing agent applied. You may also require multiple, consistent dental cleaning and examinations until the condition has cleared.

If you notice any signs and symptoms of trench mouth, arrange an appointment with your dentist. The sooner you seek professional help, the better your chances of reversing the damage of the condition.

Home Remedies

Managing pain during the healing process of the trench mouth is essential. Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) may alleviate discomfort. 

Soothing mouth rinses or coating agents can reduce any pain, especially before eating. You may use lidocaine on your gums for severe pain. However, always speak to your doctor before using over-the-counter treatments for trench mouth.

Saltwater rinses may also soothe sore gums. To make a saltwater mouthwash, mix one half of a teaspoon or three grams of salt in one cup of warm water.

Hydrogen peroxide is also often recommended to remove dead or dying gum tissue. Hydrogen peroxide is also used to rinse the gums. Alternatively, a chlorhexidine rinse or mouthwash will help with inflammation of the gums.

What Are The Risks of Trench Mouth?

Trench mouth can be significantly painful until it is treated. If left untreated, trench mouth can spread to the cheeks, lips, or jawbone. These tissues may become destroyed by the infection.

Possible risks and complications of trench mouth include:

  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss
  • Tooth loss
  • Pain 
  • Gum disease (periodontitis)
  • Spread of infection

Trench mouth also associates with some systemic diseases and conditions. These diseases include respiratory diseases, stroke, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Some research suggests that bacteria resulting in periodontitis can enter the bloodstream through gum tissue. This means that the bacteria can potentially affect your heart, lungs, and other parts of your body. However, more studies are necessary to confirm a link.

What is another name for trench mouth?

Alternative names for trench mouth include:

  • Vincent's stomatitis
  • Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG)
  • Vincent disease

How common is trench mouth?

Trench mouth is rare. When it does develop, it most often affects younger people aged between 15 to 35.

How long does trench mouth take to heal?

With proper treatment, a case of trench mouth can clear up within weeks.

Is trench mouth the same as thrush?

No, trench mouth is not the same as thrush. Oral thrush is a fungal infection of the mouth. It is typically treated with antifungal medicine. 

Oral thrush results from a group of yeasts called candida. Most people already have the spores of the fungi within their mouths. These spores typically don’t cause any issues, but they may lead to oral thrush if they multiply.

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Resources

Trench mouth, MedlinePlus, 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001044.htm 

Oral thrush in adults, nidirect government services, https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/oral-thrush-adults 

Malek, Rayhana et al., Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis, Contemporary clinical dentistry vol. 8,3 (2017): 496-500, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5644015/

Updated on: October 20, 2020
Author
Ellie Swain
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Medically Reviewed
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Lara Coseo
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