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FACT SHEET: Gonorrhea (also known as “GC”, “the clap”, “the drip”, “the dose”, “strain”, “gleet”, “gonococcal urethritis”, “gonococcal vulvovaginitis”, “gonococcal cervicitis”, and “gonococcal bartholinitis”; caused by diplococcus bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, also known as gonococcus; also known generically as a “sexually transmitted infection” [STI], “sexually transmitted disease” [STD], and “venereal disease” [VD])

Date of Publication: May 19, 2015

Is the initiation of non-invasive dental hygiene procedures* contra-indicated?

  • Potentially, if patient/client has active infectious oral disease.

Is medical consult advised?  

  • Yes, if active infectious oral disease is suspected on the basis of history and/or examination. 
  • If patient/client has oral and/or reproductive/systemic manifestations suggestive of an STI, refer to primary care provider (e.g., physician or nurse practitioner) for definitive diagnosis (e.g., smear and Gram stain, culture, urine test, etc., for gonorrhea) and treatment (i.e., antibiotics). Instruct patient/client to reschedule dental hygiene appointment when oral GC infection has been appropriately treated with antibiotics and rendered orally non-infectious

Is the initiation of invasive dental hygiene procedures contra-indicated?**

  • Potentially, if patient/client has active infectious oral disease.

Is medical consult advised? 

  • See above. 

Is medical clearance required? 

  • Yes, if active infectious oral disease is suspected on the basis of history and/or examination. 

Is antibiotic prophylaxis required?  

  • No.

Is postponing treatment advised?

  • Yes, if active infectious oral disease is suspected on the basis of history and/or examination.

Oral management implications

  • Mode of transmission: contact with exudates from mucous membranes of infected persons, which results from intimate interpersonal contact (oral-oral; oral-penile; oral-anal; oral-vulvar/vaginal; penile-vaginal; penile-anal), some of which can result in oral manifestations. The risk of transmission during oral sex (fellatio, cunnilingus, and anilingus) is increased if there are small cuts in the mouth (e.g., from dental work; brushing or flossing before/after oral sex; gum disease; or sharp foods). Risk during oral sex is also increased if there are sores on the mouth or genitals caused by rough or prolonged oral sex or an STI such as herpes or syphilis; if the person receiving oral sex is menstruating; and if there is holding of semen, vaginal fluid, or menstrual blood in the mouth for a long time or if it is swallowed. 
  • Transmission of gonorrhea from an infected patient/client to oral health personnel is highly unlikely, because the bacterium is very sensitive to drying and requires a break in the mucosa or skin to establish infection. Routine personal protective equipment (i.e., gloves, protective eyewear, and mask) should provide adequate protection from accidental transmission. 
  • In Ontario, gonorrhea is a specified Reportable Communicable Disease (as per Ontario Regs 559/91 and amendments under the Health Protection and Promotion Act). Thus, physicians and laboratories are obligated to report this disease to the local Medical Officer of Health so the local public health unit can ensure affected persons are appropriately treated and contact tracing occurs to minimize further disease transmission.
  • Sex partners of patients/clients with STIs should be assessed by an appropriate healthcare professional (e.g., physician) and treated as appropriate. 
  • To reduce acquisition and spread of oral cavity STIs, condoms or dental dams should be used for all oral-genital and oral-anal contact.
  • Brushing or flossing of teeth should be avoided within 30 minutes of giving oral sex.  
  • Antibacterial mouthwash should be used after oral sex.
  • The occurrence of certain STIs (including gonorrhea) in children automatically warrants consideration of sexual child abuse, and dental hygienists should be familiar with their professional reporting obligations to the Children’s Aid Society. Additionally, palatal petechiae in children could be a sign of forced oral sex.

Oral manifestations

  • Oral gonorrhea is more common after fellatio than after cunnilingus. 
  • The squamous epithelium of the oral cavity is generally resistant to infection, whereas the transitional epithelium of the oropharynx and tonsils is susceptible.
  • Oral cavity infection presents in nonspecific ways, ranging from acute and severe ulceration with a pseudomembranous coating (which is non-adherent and leaves a bleeding surface on removal) to slight or diffuse erythema of the oropharynx.  Lesions may closely resemble the lesions of bullous or erosive lichen planus, erythema multiforme, or herpetic gingivostomatitis; they may contribute to necrosis of the interdental papillae, lingual edema, edematous tissues that bleed easily, and vesiculations. Lesions may be solitary or numerous, and they usually develop within one week of contact with an infected person, particularly after fellatio.
  • Patients/clients with oropharyngeal infection may report sore throat and an itching or burning sensation; their mucosa may be fiery red, with small pustules. Other signs/symptoms include increased salivation, halitosis, bad taste, submandibular lymphadenopathy, and fever.
  • If the tonsils are involved, they are enlarged and inflamed, sometimes with a yellowish exudate.
  • Depending on the degree of inflammation, the patient/client may be asymptomatic or have limited oral function (talking, eating, drinking).
  • Disseminated gonococcal infection from a genital site may rarely cause acute temporomandibular joint arthritis.

Related signs and symptoms

  • A single STI is accompanied by additional STIs in about 10% of cases. Gonococcal co-infection with chlamydia is common.
  • In Canada, reported rates of gonorrhea have been mostly rising since the late 1990s, with a levelling off in 2020 coincident with the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, nearly 31,000 cases were reported, with relatively even distribution between the 15–24 (29%), 25–29 (22%) and 30–39 (39%) year-old age groups, and with males comprising 63% of all reported cases. Increasing resistance to antibiotics is a concern.
  • In women, overt signs/symptoms are often absent or minimal. Symptomatic infection may manifest as vaginal or urethral discharge, dysuria (painful urination), and urinary urgency and frequency. Backache and abdominal pain may also occur. Ascending infection from the cervix (cervicitis) can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which may be symptomatic or asymptomatic and lead to tubal scarring, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility.
  • In men, the most common findings are related to urethritis1, which involves mucopurulent urethral discharge, dysuria, and urinary urgency and frequency. Tenderness and swelling of the urethral meatus may also occur, as may epididymitis (pain in the testicles).
  • Proctitis2 (resulting from anal canal infection) in both sexes may manifest as purulent discharge and pain.
  • Vulvovaginitis can occur in prepubescent girls (as a result of direct genital contact with exudate from infected people during sexual abuse).
  • Conjunctivitis occurs in newborns (resulting from infection from the birth canal), and rarely in adults. This may result in blindness.
  • Gonococcal bacteremia results in an arthritis-dermatitis syndrome, which is occasionally associated with meningitis or endocarditis.

References and sources of more detailed information

Date: December 23, 2014
Revised: January 8, 2020; January 17, 2024


1 Urethritis is inflammation of the lining of the urethra, usually caused by infection.
2 Proctitis is inflammation of the lining of the rectum.

* Includes oral hygiene instruction, fitting a mouth guard, taking an impression, etc.
** Ontario Regulation 501/07 made under the Dental Hygiene Act, 1991. Invasive dental hygiene procedures are scaling teeth and root planing, including curetting surrounding tissue.