Trench mouth is a more advanced and serious form of gingivitis, a common gum disease. Trench mouth makes your gums bleed, hurt and swell. It also causes ulcers or lesions between your teeth and kills gum tissue. Without treatment, trench mouth can destroy gum tissue and then spread into nearby tissues such as your cheeks, lips or jawbones.
Trench mouth is a serious gum infection. It’s a more advanced and serious form of gingivitis, a common gum disease. Trench mouth makes your gums bleed, hurt and swell. It also causes ulcers or lesions between your teeth and kills gum tissue. Trench mouth is linked to conditions and activities that affect your immune system. Without treatment, trench mouth can destroy gum tissue and then spread into nearby tissues such as your cheeks, lips or jawbones.
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Trench mouth goes by many names, including Vincent stomatitis, acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG) and necrotizing ulcerative periodontitis. People started using the term “trench mouth” during World War I, when soldiers living and fighting in battlefield trenches developed severe gum infections linked to poor diet, poor oral hygiene and intense psychological stress.
Trench mouth affects about 0.5% to 11% of the population. It typically affects people age 18 to 20. Trench mouth is more common in places where people don’t have access to dental care. People who have immune system diseases, particularly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), are at increased risk for trench mouth.
Trench mouth happens the natural bacteria in your mouth begin to multiply or overgrow, infecting your gums. Several things start this overgrowth:
People who have trench mouth may develop sudden and intense gum pain that affects one or several places on their gums. Here are other symptoms:
Someone who has a serious form of trench mouth may have the following symptoms:
Providers diagnose trench mouth by:
Providers typically treat trench mouth by preventing the disease from spreading and managing any pain you may have because of the condition. They may use an ultrasonic instrument or chemicals to clean your teeth and remove any dead tissue from your gums. They may prescribe antibiotics and pain medication. Sometimes, people who have trench mouth need gum surgery to fill in any craters between their teeth.
Good dental hygiene is the best way to prevent trench mouth. Ask your dentist how often you should floss and brush your teeth.
Trench mouth is linked to general health habits like coping with stress, getting enough sleep, eating well and not smoking.
Trench mouth requires treatment. It won’t go away on its own. While treatment usually cures trench mouth, there are times when treatment doesn’t work.Some common reasons for treatment failing to work include:
The most important step is following good hygiene recommendations, such as flossing daily and brushing your teeth after meals.
Trench mouth happens when your immune system is under stress. You can support your immune system by having a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and managing stress.
If you’ve had trench mouth treatment, you should see your provider if you think your trench mouth is coming back.
Trench mouth isn’t common, so you may be surprised to learn you have a gum disease that became notorious during World War I. Here are some questions you may have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Trench mouth is a serious gum disease that often affects people whose immune systems are under stress or who don’t have access to good dental hygiene and care. Fortunately, healthcare providers can effectively treat trench mouth. Most people begin to feel better within days of treatment. Some people, however, may need gum surgery. You can prevent developing trench mouth by having good dental hygiene. Ask your provider what you can do to prevent trench mouth. They’ll be happy to help.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/21/2022.
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