Necrotizing Ulcerative Periodontitis and Gingivitis


Necrotizing ulcerating periodontitis (NUP) is a marker of severe immunosuppression that affects gingival tissues (gums) and extends to the underlying bone or periodontium. It may or may not be distinct from necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (NUG), which is considered to be confined to the gingiva. This discussion will focus primarily on NUP, but the microbial profiles and treatment recommendations for these two periodontal diseases are similar.

NUP in HIV-infected individuals is believed to be an endogenous infection that progresses to necrosis of the gingiva. Pathogens may include anaerobic bacteria and fungi. NUP usually presents as "blunting" or ulceration of the interdental papillae, but rapidly progresses to destruction of underlying alveolar bone. It usually is associated with severe pain and spontaneous bleeding. Several case reports have described extensive destruction leading to exfoliation of teeth within 3-6 months of onset, with sequestration of necrotic alveolar bone and necrotic involvement of the adjacent mandible and maxilla. Patients may present with concomitant malnutrition resulting from inability to take food by mouth. The prevalence of NUP in the HIV-infected population has been reported as 0-5%. NUP is the most serious form of periodontal disease associated with HIV.

S: Subjective

The patient complains of painful, spontaneously bleeding gums, diminished or metallic taste, bad breath, or loose teeth (with a prevalence toward anterior teeth and first molars). "Deep jaw pain" is a common complaint and may reflect extension to adjacent mucosa.

O: Objective

Examine the oral cavity carefully. NUP and NUG present with fiery red, ulcerated gingival tissues, and grayish exudate. Teeth may be very loose or missing and there will be a fetid odor from the mouth. The ulcerated tissues can extend past the attached gingiva to the adjacent mucosa. Necrosis of adjacent bone also is common.

A: Assessment

The differential diagnosis includes other causes of gingival ulceration, such as herpes simplex virus, herpes zoster, and cytomegalovirus. (See relevant chapters on these conditions.)

P: Plan


Treatment usually is divided into the acute phase and the maintenance phase. The primary concern in the acute phase is pain control. For the maintenance phase, treatment is directed toward reducing the burden of potential pathogens, preventing further tissue destruction, and promoting healing.

  • For uncomplicated NUP or NUG, the primary care provider should prescribe an antimicrobial rinse (see below), antibiotic therapy (see below), medications for pain management, and nutritional supplementation; the patient should be referred to a dental health care professional.
  • Chlorhexidine gluconate rinse (0.12%) twice daily after brushing and flossing (an alcohol-free preparation is preferred).
  • Antibiotic therapy (preferably narrow spectrum, to leave gram-positive aerobic flora unperturbed).
    • Metronidazole is the drug of choice, 500 mg PO BID for 7-10 days.
    • If the patient cannot tolerate metronidazole: clindamycin 150 mg QID or amoxicillin-clavulanate (Augmentin) 875 mg PO BID for 7-10 days, if no hypersensitivity or allergy to either drug exists.
  • Refer to a dentist for the following:
    • Removal of plaque and debris from the site of infection and inflammation.
    • Debridement of necrotic hard and soft tissues, with a 0.12% chlorhexidine gluconate or povidone-iodine lavage.
    • Regular deep cleaning.

Patient Education

  • Advise the patient of the following: Good oral hygiene is critical for arresting gingival infection and tooth loss. Avoid smoking and try to eliminate emotional stress. When primary stabilization is achieved, resume daily brushing and flossing after every meal. This may be difficult during the acute phase, but it is very important to keep the mouth as clean as possible. Nutrition education and supplements (liquid diet, plus vitamins/minerals) are recommended.
  • Frequent professional cleaning (every 3 months) may be needed during the maintenance phase.
  • Patients taking metronidazole should not drink alcohol for at least 24-48 hours after taking the last dose, in order to avoid severe nausea and vomiting from a disulfiram-like reaction.
  • Instruct patients not to drink or eat for 30 minutes after rinsing with chlorhexidine.
  • HIV (and hepatitis C) may (rarely) be transmitted from bleeding gums during "deep kissing" or other activities (oral-genital contact). Advise patients/clients to avoid exposing partners to HIV by taking all necessary precautions, including abstinence from risky activities until this condition is healed and stable (no oozing of oral fluids).


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