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What is trench mouth?

Trench Mouth Symptoms

The human mouth normally contains a balance of different bacteria, but trench mouth occurs when this balance is upset. Oral bacteria build up, which damages gum tissue, causing it to become infected and develop ulcers [source: PubMed Health].

Trench mouth is often quite painful. Symptoms can come on suddenly and include [source: Mayo Clinic]:

  • Bad breath
  • Foul taste in the mouth
  • Large ulcers between teeth that fill with food, bacteria and damaged gum tissue
  • Swollen, painful gums
  • Grayish film on the gums, caused by decomposed gum tissue
  • Significant bleeding of the gums when irritated

Fever and swollen lymph nodes in the head and neck are less common symptoms, but they do occur.

In addition to poor hygiene and inadequate nutrition, it's believed that viruses may also be at play in allowing the bacteria to grow, so people with compromised immune systems may be at risk for trench mouth. Doctors believe it can also result from emotional stress and smoking [source: PubMed Health].

A person suffering from the symptoms of trench mouth should see a dentist immediately because it can spread to the cheeks, lips or jawbone if left untreated [source: PubMed Health].

Treatment of trench mouth is discussed on the next page.