Description and Overview

Gingivostomatitis is a common oral problem. It is marked by swelling and sores in the mouth and gums. It is often caused by bacteria and certain types of viruses. It is more common in children and is often due to poor oral hygiene. Most infections of this nature are mild. But there are also severe cases that can be quite painful.

The condition is not life-threatening, but it can cause a great deal of discomfort. Children who have it can display a variety of symptoms. They are usually restless and may refuse food and water.

Gingivostomatitis usually disappears after a week or two. This can happen with or without treatment. Treatment focuses on managing the symptoms rather than the condition itself. As with any other type of viral or bacterial infections, prevention is always better than cure. The condition can be prevented with proper oral hygiene. It is also best to avoid physical contact with people who have it or display its symptoms.

Causes of Condition

The herpes simplex virus type 1, also referred to as HSV-1, causes over 90% of the cases. It can also occur due to coxsackievirus. Many patients develop the condition due to poor oral hygiene or physical contact with someone who has it. Physical contact is usually through a kiss. However, a person can also get infected if he or she uses a patient’s personal items.

It is important to note that the condition is highly contagious. It can spread through the household quickly. As such, patients should not be allowed any type of physical contact until they are fully recovered.

In most cases, the condition simply disappears after 7 to 14 days.

Key Symptoms

The condition can occur in anyone of any age. In infants, it is often mistaken as teething. This is because when an infant’s teeth erupt, it produces similar symptoms to the condition. The child is often irritable, has trouble sleeping, and has difficulty eating. Thus, it is important for parents not to assume or conclude the child’s condition at this stage. It would be best to consult the child’s dentist or a paediatric doctor.

It is also important to note that a key symptom is the refusal to eat or drink water. This can easily lead to dehydration. Dehydration can be very serious and can lead to death, especially in very young children. Patients find it difficult to swallow due to sores in their mouth. They also often develop a fever that causes a feeling of general discomfort and irritability.

Another symptom is fatigue. Together with a poor appetite, the patient finds it difficult to move around due to low energy levels. The sores in their mouth also make it difficult for them to brush their teeth on a regular basis. This, together with the patient’s refusal to eat, can cause bad breath.

Other key symptoms include dryness of the mouth and skin. Dizziness, nausea, and constipation are also very common. In some cases, patients do not display any signs other than visible sores in the mouth and gums. In such cases, a doctor should still be consulted. He or she will assess the situation and prescribe medications if needed. This can prevent the sores from spreading or increasing.

Who to See and Types of Treatment Available

Treatment is not required in the majority of cases. Many patients feel better between one and two weeks without treatment. However, consulting a doctor can help prevent complications from occurring. The most serious, especially for young children, is dehydration.

Medications often used include painkillers and an antiviral agent called acyclovir. This drug is known to reduce fever within three days. It can also improve sores and lesions within a week. However, it is important to note that treatment with Acyclovir may have some side effects. These include nausea, headaches, and a general feeling of discomfort and illness.

Like all forms of illnesses, there are ways to reduce the risk of the condition. Prevention methods are highly advisable, especially in households with children or adults who have it. To prevent being infected, a person should practice oral hygiene at least twice a day. Brushing the teeth after every meal and before going to bed is very important. Tooth problems, such as tooth decay and plaque should be taken care of and prevented as well.

It is also important to avoid physical contact with patients. Because the condition is highly contagious, it can transfer from one person to another very quickly. Aside from physical contact, it is also important to avoid using the patient’s personal items. These include makeup, razors, and even silverware and cups.


  • US National Library of Medicine; Gingivostomatitis;

  • Ran D. Goldman MD FRCPC; “Acyclovir for herpetic gingivostomatitis in children”;

  • Amir H. Ajar BSc, DDS, Peter J. Chauvin DDS MSc FRCDC; “Acute Herpetic Gingivostomatitis in Adults: A Review of 13 Cases, Including Diagnosis and Management”;

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