Inflammation of the lining of the mouth that may be mild or severe

  • May occur at any age but most common in children and elderly people
  • Poor oral hygiene, smoking, and a diet deficient in iron are risk factors
  • Gender and genetics are not significant factors

Stomatitis is a general inflammation of the lining of the mouth including the tongue. The disorder is usually caused by an infection. If the inflammation affects the tongue, it is called glossitis; if it affects the gums, it is called gingivitis. Mouth ulcers are another form of stomatitis. Whichever part of the mouth is affected, stomatitis is usually a short-lived condition and, although it may be painful, it does not usually cause serious problems.

What are the causes?

The most common causes of stomatitis are infections with viruses, bacteria, or fungi and eating a poor diet. Smoking may also cause the condition.

Viral stomatitis is mainly caused by the herpes simplex virus (see Herpes simplex infections) and the coxsackie virus. Viral stomatitis occurs most commonly in childhood.

Bacterial stomatitis, particularly gingivitis, usually results from neglected dental problems and poor oral hygiene, such as ineffective toothbrushing. Oral bacterial infections are also more likely when saliva production is reduced, such as in Sjögren’s syndrome.

Stomatitis may also result from the fungal infection candidiasis, in which a fungus that is normally present in the mouth grows excessively and causes inflammation. Candidiasis occurs most commonly in infants, elderly people, those who wear dentures, and pregnant women. People with reduced immunity, such as those with diabetes mellitus and people with AIDS (see HIV infection and AIDS), are also susceptible to candidiasis. The infection may also occur in people who are being treated with antibiotics and in people who use inhaled corticosteroids to treat asthma (see Corticosteroids for respiratory disease) and fail to rinse their mouth thoroughly afterwards.

The most common deficiency that causes stomatitis is a shortage of iron, which also leads to anaemia (see Iron-deficiency anaemia). Deficiency of vitamin B12 or folic acid in the diet may also cause stomatitis.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of stomatitis may range from mild to severe and include:

  • Sore mouth.

  • Bad breath.

  • In some cases, mouth ulcers.

In gingivitis, the gums may be sore and swollen and may bleed during toothbrushing. Chronic gingivitis and poor oral hygiene may lead to teeth loosening and eventually falling out.

What might be done?

If your doctor cannot make a diagnosis from your symptoms immediately, a swab may be taken from the affected area of the mouth and sent to a laboratory for testing. If stomatitis is due to infection, antibiotics or antifungal drugs may be prescribed. Most viral infections clear up spontaneously, and treatment is usually aimed at relieving symptoms such as pain. Antiviral drugs may also be prescribed.

To relieve the symptoms, you should keep your mouth clean by using saltwater mouthwashes regularly. If eating and drinking are particularly painful, your doctor may prescribe a pain relieving mouthwash or gel containing a local anaesthetic to apply to the inside of your mouth just before meals. If children are unable to drink, they may be admitted to hospital to be given fluids intravenously to rehydrate them.

Gingivitis can be prevented by good oral hygiene (see Caring for your teeth and gums). Once it has developed, more extensive treatment by your dentist or dental hygienist may be necessary to control the progression of the condition.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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