Trench Mouth

Trench mouth is a sudden, painful sore (ulceration) of the gums that is caused by bacteria. Trench mouth is a painful form of gingivitis. Gingivitis means redness and soreness of the gums. The term "trench mouth" comes from World War I. The condition was common when the disorder appeared among soldiers in the trenches. The mouth normally contains a balance of all the germs growing in it. When the balance is upset and too many germs start growing, it can cause painful ulcers on the gums. It is an uncommon disorder which usually affects young adults.


  • Poor nutrition.

  • Poor oral hygiene.

  • Smoking.

  • Emotional distress.


  • Painful gums which are red, swollen, and covered with a grayish film. There may be destruction of tissue between the teeth due to the ulcerations.

  • Gum bleeding with even minor brushing or irritation.

  • Ulcerations of the gums along with a bad taste in the mouth and bad breath.

  • Fever and swollen glands in the neck.


Your caregiver can usually make this diagnosis by a physical exam. Sometimes, X-rays and cultures may be used to help with the diagnosis.


Treatment is aimed at relief of symptoms and getting rid of the infection. Antibiotic medicine may be prescribed.


  • Good oral hygiene is necessary. Thorough toothbrushing and flossing must be performed often. This should be done after meals and at bedtime. Your caregiver may be able to help by suggesting a soothing rinse or the use of a local pain medicine, such as viscous lidocaine, before brushing.

  • Warm salt water rinses made up of 1 tsp of salt in 2 cups of warm water may be helpful. If the rinse is painful, add more water.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver.

  • Take your antibiotics as directed. Finish them even if you start to feel better.

  • Follow your dentist's instructions for teeth cleaning during this infection. Follow up with all your caregivers as directed.

  • Avoid smoking, alcohol, and irritating foods. You will know immediately which foods irritate your mouth. Typically, these will be spicy, sour, or citrus foods.


  • You develop pain or swelling in your face.

  • You have a fever.

  • You are unable to take fluids or eat food comfortably.

  • Your medicines do not seem to be working and you feel you are getting worse.

  • Your medicines are not relieving your pain.

  • You develop a stiff neck or a severe headache, which is unrelieved with medicines.


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.