Gingivostomatitis is an infection of the mouth. It commonly occurs in children, but it can affect adults too. Gingivostomatitis may be caused by a virus or bacteria — or it may be the result of poor oral hygiene. Treatments may include antibiotics or minor oral surgery.


What is gingivostomatitis?

Gingivostomatitis is a painful oral infection that can cause blisters on the lips and canker sores in the mouth. The condition is caused by a virus or bacteria. It’s often due to poor hygiene, such as not brushing and flossing enough. Gingivostomatitis is also called acute herpetic gingivostomatitis, herpetic gingivostomatitis and primary gingivostomatitis.


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Who does gingivostomatitis affect?

The condition most commonly affects young children. However, it can occur at any age.

How common is gingivostomatitis?

Gingivostomatitis is quite common. Once infected, approximately 40% of children will develop recurring mouth sores and ulcers.


Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of gingivostomatitis?

Symptoms of gingivostomatitis can vary, and they may be mild or severe. Signs may include:

What causes gingivostomatitis?

Gingivostomatitis can develop due to certain viruses or bacteria. These include:

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The most common cause of gingivostomatitis, HSV-1 is the same virus that causes cold sores.
  • Streptococcus. This bacteria commonly causes strep throat or blood infections, but it can also result in gingivostomatitis.
  • Actinomyces. This bacteria naturally occurs in the mouth, but it can lead to gingivostomatitis if it enters the oral tissues. This may occur following oral surgery or trauma to the mouth.
  • Coxsackieviruses. A common group of viruses, coxsackieviruses usually spread due to unwashed hands or other surfaces contaminated with feces (poop). Coxsackieviruses also commonly cause hand, foot and mouth disease.

Keep in mind, the most common risk factor for gingivostomatitis is poor oral hygiene. To lower your risk, brush and floss every day and visit your dentist regularly.


How long is gingivostomatitis contagious?

In most cases, a person with gingivostomatitis is contagious for about seven days after the mouth sores appear. Before having close contact with anyone else, you should be fever-free for at least 24 hours.

Do adults with gingivostomatitis have the same symptoms as children with the condition?

Herpetic gingivostomatitis in adults is usually accompanied by mouth ulcers, fever, dry mouth and red, swollen or painful gums. While some warning signs can vary, they are typically the same symptoms that occur in children.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is gingivostomatitis diagnosed?

In many instances, gingivostomatitis can be diagnosed with a visual examination. Your healthcare provider will also ask about symptoms. In some cases, a culture or biopsy may be performed to confirm which type of bacteria or virus is causing the infection.

Management and Treatment

How is gingivostomatitis treated?

Gingivostomatitis treatment may include antibiotics to get rid of the infection and ease your symptoms. In some cases, the affected areas may need to be cleaned or debrided.

How can I manage gingivostomatitis symptoms?

In addition to taking antibiotics, there are other things you can do at home to reduce pain and discomfort, For example:

  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®).
  • Rinse your mouth with an antibacterial mouthwash twice a day.
  • Gently swish with warm salt water a few times daily to soothe your mouth.
  • Avoid eating, hot, spicy or salty foods.
  • Brush twice a day and floss once a day. (This may cause some discomfort, but poor oral hygiene can increase your risk for reinfection.)


How can I prevent gingivostomatitis?

To reduce your risk for gingivostomatitis:

  • Practice good oral hygiene.
  • Attend routine dental check-ups and cleanings.
  • Regularly clean any oral appliances such as dentures or retainers.

To reduce your risk for HSV-1, avoid close personal contact with people who are infected. This includes kissing or sharing eating utensils.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have gingivostomatitis?

Because symptoms can vary, some people may experience mild discomfort while others have severe pain. In most cases, mouth ulcers caused by gingivostomatitis heal in about two to three weeks.

When can I go back to work or school?

A person with gingivostomatitis should be fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning to work or school. Additionally, mouth sores can be contagious for up to a week, so be sure to ask your healthcare provider when it’s safe to resume normal activities.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Any time you develop mouth sores along with a fever, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider. If your symptoms worsen or don’t respond to treatment within three weeks, you should ask your provider about next steps.

Additional Common Questions

Is gingivostomatitis an STI?

No, it's not a sexually transmitted infection. But it can be caused by HSV-1, which can occasionally cause genital herpes. Gingivostomatitis is typically passed from person to person from mouth-to-mouth contact, such as kissing or sharing eating utensils.

Is gingivostomatitis serious?

Gingivostomatitis usually doesn’t cause serious health problems, especially when treated promptly. But it can be very painful. People with gingivostomatitis should improve oral hygiene habits to avoid other related health problems, such as periodontal disease.

What is the difference between gingivostomatitis and gingivitis?

Gingivostomatitis is an oral infection inside the mouth that can result in mouth sores and ulcers. Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. It’s considered the first stage of gum (periodontal) disease.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Gingivostomatitis can be painful and uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are treatments to ease your symptoms and help you heal. Ask your dentist or healthcare provider for ways to reduce your risk and keep your mouth healthy.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 09/03/2021.

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