Gingivostomatitis: Overview and More

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Gingivostomatitis is an inflammation of the gums and lips that manifests from an underlying cause. Since gingivostomatitis can be caused by viruses or bacteria, it is considered highly contagious. Gingivostomatitis leads to painful sores and swelling of the gums. Although any person can develop gingivostomatitis, it is most commonly found in children under the age of 6.

This article discusses gingivostomatitis symptoms, causes, and treatment.

Doctor checking mouth of child patient

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Gingivostomatitis Symptoms

When a person develops gingivostomatitis, they can develop symptoms on the tongue, lips, inside of the mouth, and gums. That said, the majority of children that have the condition will not present with any symptoms.

When symptoms of the infection do arise, they include:

  • Fever
  • Ulcers in both the front and back of the mouth
  • Swelling and bleeding of the gums
  • Tonsillar exudate (when the tonsils become coated by a fluid)
  • High white blood cell count (immune system cells designed to fight off infection)
  • Painful blisters in the mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Drooling (although this is more common in children than adults)
  • Foul-smelling breath, also known as halitosis
  • Not wanting to eat because of a sore mouth
  • Feeling generally unwell

Health Complications of Gingivostomatitis

Typically, the symptoms of gingivostomatitis range from mild to severe. However, the infection can cause serious effects, such as dehydration and swelling of brain tissue.

Causes

Gingivostomatitis can be caused by the following:

  • Viruses: The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and coxsackievirus both can cause the condition to develop.
  • Poor oral hygiene: Failing to brush or floss appropriately can lead to gingivostomatitis.
  • Bacterial infection: In rare instances, gingivostomatitis can be caused by bacteria such as Streptococcus or Actinomyces.

HSV-1 is the most common cause and accounts for roughly 90% of all cases.

Gingivostomatitis and Adults

Although the infection is more common in children, adults can develop it if they contract a virus that leads to it. In some instances, the herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) (the viral infection associated with genital herpes) can lead to the infection in some adults.

Diagnosis

To diagnose gingivostomatitis, healthcare providers will conduct an oral exam to determine if there are ulcers, blisters, swelling, or bleeding in the mouth. This physical exam is typically enough to reach a diagnosis.

However, since the ulcers that develop are hard to distinguish from those that occur with other types of infections, a small tissue sample may be taken from one of the sores. The tissue sample will be examined in a lab culture to see what type of infection is causing it.

Treatment

In some cases, treating gingivostomatitis isn’t necessary because the condition can resolve on its own in a few weeks.

Viral infections often need to run their course, and gingivostomatitis is no different. This is why treatment is often geared toward making the symptoms more bearable while the infection clears up.

Some ways a person can cope with symptoms include:

  • Brush and floss your teeth twice a day. You may also need to brush your gums and tongue as well.
  • Perform saltwater rinses or use mouthwash containing xylocaine or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Eat healthy foods and avoid spicy foods.
  • Drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration and oral dryness.
  • Use pain-relieving medications, including Tylenol (acetaminophen) and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen).

If the infection is caused by bacteria, antibiotics will be prescribed.

Does Gingivostomatitis Cause Permanent Damage?

The condition isn’t likely to leave permanent damage to the inside of the mouth. That said, in rare cases, people may have to have severely affected tissue within the mouth removed.

Summary

Gingivostomatitis is a painful and irritating mouth infection that can leave a person with mouth ulcers and bleeding and swollen gums. It can also cause difficulties with eating. The infection itself is typically caused by the HSV-1 virus, however, other types of viruses as well as bacteria and poor oral hygiene can lead to its development.

While most common in children, the infection can occur at any age. Diagnosing and treating the infection is fairly simple, as healthcare providers typically only need to examine the mouth to make a diagnosis. They will recommend at-home remedies such as salt rinses and pain relievers while the infection clears on its own.

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing gingivostomatitis, or watching your child deal with the infection, can be difficult to cope with. Because of how painful the sores can be, drinking or eating can be difficult. Fortunately, the infection usually resolves on its own within three weeks. If you find yourself with severe ulcers or your child won’t eat or drink anything, contact your healthcare provider for possible treatment options to speed up recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is gingivostomatitis considered a sexually transmitted infection?

    While people often associate the herpes virus with sexually transmitted infections, gingivostomatitis is typically not passed through sexual contact. It can be passed through saliva that makes its way onto other objects, such as toys, cups, utensils, or straws.

  • What does gingivostomatitis look like?

    The sores and blisters that develop because of a gingivostomatitis infection are small. They can develop anywhere inside the mouth as well as on the lips. After a while, the blisters pop open, causing a person to experience raw gums, as well as bleeding and pain in the mouth.

  • What should you eat if you have gingivostomatitis?

    Many types of foods can irritate the sores in the mouth, so if you have this type of infection, you should stick to bland foods, such as frozen ice pops, applesauce, or oatmeal. Any acidic, salty, or crunchy foods can irritate the mouth and should be avoided.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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