Trench mouth revisited— published: 12-23-2013
Maintaining good oral health has long been a challenge for Warfighters. As early as the 4th century BC, Greek historian and soldier Xenophon noted that his fellow warriors had sore, foul-smelling mouths. During World War I, the term “trench mouth” was coined to describe poor oral health among soldiers engaged in trench warfare. Despite advances in dental care and hygiene, deployed Warfighters are still at risk for trench mouth—now referred to as necrotizing periodontal disease (NPD)—a condition that can lead to painful ulcers, spontaneous gum bleeding, and a foul taste in the mouth. Poor oral health adversely affects readiness and could cost you your career. A variety of factors can contribute to the problem of poor oral health, so we offer a few solutions.
Poor hygiene. Warfighters often have little time for oral hygiene when deployed, and you could fall out of your normal routine of brushing and flossing. In addition, you may overlook the need to pack a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss in your personal hygiene kits, making it even more difficult to keep your mouth and teeth clean.
Solution: Be sure to pack a few travel-size tubes of toothpaste, some dental floss, and a travel-size toothbrush in your travel bag and establish a routine as quickly as possible.
Tobacco use. Using tobacco products can lead to gum disease by impairing blood flow to your gums, which can cause tooth loss and make you more susceptible to mouth infections. Tobacco use affects other aspects of performance, too.
Solution: It’s never too late to quit—check out these great tips to become tobacco-free.
Poor nutrition. Eating right can be challenging in the field. The stress of combat and training missions can dampen your appetite and—let’s face it—MREs aren’t the same as a good, home-cooked meal. But not eating enough food or not eating a variety of foods can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that reduce your ability to fight infections.
Solution: Although MREs can’t replicate the tastes of home, they are nutritionally balanced to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies among Warfighters during training and combat missions. It’s important to eat a variety of MREs and to eat as many of the different components as you can to make sure you get all the nutrients they provide.
Stress. There’s no doubt that stress adversely affects many aspects of performance and overall health, to include dental health. Stress can cause dry mouth and sore, inflamed gums.
Solution: HPRC’s Stress Management section can help you find ways to cope with your stress.
While any one of these factors can contribute to dental problems such as tooth decay, when taken together, they can create a “perfect storm” that can cause serious dental issues such as NPD. Maintaining a good oral-health routine (even when deployed), cutting back on tobacco, eating right, and managing your stress can go a long way toward helping you maintain good oral health and your performance. For more information, look into these tips on oral health from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And be sure to take care of your teeth (while you still have them)!