What is Necrotizing Gingivitis?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2018
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Necrotizing gingivitis is the severe infection of the gums. Also referred to as trench mouth, it is marked by inflammation and ulceration of the gums and the sloughing off of dead tissues in this area. Necrotizing gingivitis is caused by a bacterial infection of the gums and is only a rare problem in most developed countries. It is, however, a common occurrence in countries in which nutrition is poor and access to medical care is limited. Scientists are not entirely sure why bacteria involved in this condition become so destructive, but they believe the toxins produced by the bacteria may be a major part of the problem.

Necrotizing gingivitis is a painful condition that is marked by gum ulcers, bleeding gums, and gum tissue deterioration. In addition to pain, bleeding, and ulcers, a person with this condition is likely to have gum tissue that appears swollen and red, with a gray film in areas. Foul-smelling breath and a fever may develop as well. Often, swollen glands are also among the symptoms of necrotizing gingivitis.


In the past, necrotizing gingivitis was more common, especially during World War I when it was a frequent problem among soldiers in the trenches. In fact, this connection to World War I is the reason necrotizing gingivitis is nicknamed trench mouth. Soldiers in the trenches often developed it due to the lack of time and supplies for dental hygiene. Today, people who live in developed countries are less likely to develop the condition. Sadly, it is still a frequent problem is less-developed nations in which living conditions, health care, and nutrition is poor.

When a person has this severe gum infection, bacteria grow and multiply to the point where they damage or even destroy the affected person's gum tissue. The bacteria cause large, deep ulcers to form, and the decaying tissue leads to bad breath. The ulcers and decaying tissue contribute to the pain common with this condition as well. The reasons behind the tissue destruction that marks necrotizing gingivitis is unclear, but it may be related to the production of bacteria-produced toxins in the mouth.

Usually, antibiotics and pain relievers are used to treat necrotizing gingivitis, and gently cleaning the teeth and gums may help as well. An individual may also benefit from a visit to his dentist for a professional cleaning. In some cases, surgery is used to repair gums that have been severely damaged by the disease.



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