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When a child is sick, a simple gum infection can get out of control and spread through the cheek to the face. When that happens the condition is called Noma or Cancrum Oris. Noma is a complication of Vincent’s infection of the gums.
You will usually see Noma in children. It will only develop if these 3 things are true:
- The child’s general resistance is low. Usually, he is undernourished and anemic (lacks iron). He may have tuberculosis.
- The child has Vincent’s infection.
- The child has recently had a serious illness such as measles or malaria.
The infection starts in the mouth. Then it passes to the gums.
- Swollen, sore gums.
- Sore mouth with itching gums.
- Gums bleed when eating or when teeth are cleaned.
- Bad breath, spits a lot.
- Loose teeth.
- Loose pieces of bone around the teeth.
- Skin is tight with dark red swelling.
- Black spot on the cheek breaks open, leaving a hole into the mouth.
- A line separates dead tissue from healthy tissue.
You must start treatment for Noma immediately in order to prevent the hole from getting bigger. The bigger the hole, the tighter the scar that forms after you close the hole. A tight scar will prevent the child from opening his mouth and chewing the food he needs to grow stronger.
The child needs to overcome both the lack of body water (dehydration) and his lack of resistance to disease.
Start giving milk-oil drink.
If he cannot drink by himself, help him. Use a spoon or syringe.
Place the fluid on the inside of the healthy cheek and ask the child to swallow.
Treat the anemia.
Start giving iron (ferrous sulfate) now. The child should continue taking the tablets or mixture for 3 months, with food.
Ferrous Sulfate Tablets over 6 years 200 mg (1 tab) 3 times a day 3–6 years 100 mg (½ tab) 3 times a day under 3 years 50 mg (¼ tab) 3 times a day
You can also use ferrous fumarate. Advise the mother that the iron will make the child’s stool black.
Also give food rich in iron: meat, fish, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, peas and beans.
Note: A child may have anemia because he has worms. It is a good idea to do a stool analysis to find out. If he has worms, give him medicine right away. Mebendazole, albendazole, and thiabendazole treat many different worm infections. Piperazine treats roundworm and pinworm infections, and there are other medicines for tapeworm and blood flukes. Also give folic acid. For doses, see Where There Is No Doctor, pages 373 to 376, and page 392.
Metronidazole is the best medicine to use. Give 200 mg by mouth 3 times a day for 10 days. You can also use clindamycin. To decide how much to give, weigh the child. For adults, see information about medicines and doses.
Weight Dose for clindamycin (give 3 times a day for 5 days) 5 to 10 kg 50 mg by mouth or 60 mg by injection 10 to 17 kg 100 mg by mouth or 130 mg by injection 17 to 25 kg 150 mg by mouth or 225 mg by injection over 25 kg 250 mg by mouth or 333 mg by injection
Treat the other illness that helped Noma to develop.
It is wise to assume that the child has malaria and to begin treating with antimalarial drugs (see Where There Is No Doctor, pages 364 to 367). Look for any other illnesses and treat them, too, especially measles and tuberculosis.
Clean the sore.
Gently pull away any dead skin with tweezers. Wash the inside of the sore with hydrogen peroxide. (Be sure you measure the hydrogen peroxide carefully.) Then put in a wet dressing. (You can also clean the sore with an iodine solution.)
- Soak cotton gauze in salt water. Squeeze out the extra water so that it is damp but not wet.
- Put it in the hole and cover it with a dry bandage.
- Every day, remove the bandage, wash the hole with hydrogen peroxide, and put in a new dressing. Do this until the hole does not smell anymore and there is no more dark dead skin.
- Remove the loose teeth and dead bone. You can use a local anesthetic (Chapter 9). Usually there is not much bleeding. If gums are loose, join them with a suture.
Keep the mouth clean.
- Use a soft brush gently to clean the remaining teeth. Do this 3 times a day for the child.
- Wipe the gums with a weak solution of hydrogen peroxide. Use cotton gauze that is damp with the solution. Do this every 2 hours for 5 days.
- Then after 5 days, start rinsing with warm salt water, 3 cups a day.
Get advice on whether surgery is needed.
Unfortunately, the child will probably need surgery, to release the scar. Without this surgery, the child will not be able to open his mouth properly.
Send the child for medical help when the infection is finished and the wound starts to close.
You may also need a dentist’s help at this time. The child’s jaws may need to be wired. The wires are put on the healthy teeth in a way that holds the mouth open while the tight scar is forming. When the wires are removed, the child will be able to open and close his mouth to chew food.
Prevention of Noma:
Noma need not occur. We can prevent it. Always give special attention to the mouth of a sick child, to be sure to keep his teeth clean.
Whenever someone is nursing or caring for a sick child, that person should clean the child’s teeth as a normal activity. This is especially true for a child who is weak, undernourished, and with little body water (dehydration).
Such a child should always:
- have his teeth carefully cleaned each day with a soft brush.
- rinse his mouth with a warm salt water solution, 2 times a day.
- eat fresh fruits and vegetables, especially the kind that have vitamin C: guavas, oranges, pineapples, papayas, tomatoes, peas, and dark green leaves.