Although bad breath is not necessarily due to gingivitis, the gum disease can be a contributing factor, especially if the bad breath is chronic and a patient has a history of poor dental hygiene. Gingivitis is a periodontal disease that is an inflammatory response to bacterial buildup on the teeth, which is known as plaque. Gingivitis is characterized by swollen, tender gums that may be bright red or purple. Although gingivitis is not destructive in itself, if left untreated it may progress to periodontitis which is a destructive gum disease.
Bad Breath and Gingivitis
Bad breath is usually caused by the gases produced by naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth. These bacteria build up from a number of sources including food particles not swallowed, post nasal drip, and dead epithelial cells. The back part of the tongue and crevasses in the teeth are relatively dry and not easily cleaned, so these bacteria flourish. As the bacteria break down particles, especially in anaerobic conditions, they emit a number of odorous gases such as volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) like dimethyl sulfide, methyl mercaptan, hydrogen sulfide and allyl methyl sulfide. Smells due to the emission of indole, skatole and polyamines may also be present. The resulting syndrome is called halitosis, or bad breath, and it occurs chronically in about 25 percent of the population.
A history of poor dental hygiene that results from chewing or smoking tobacco, not brushing and flossing teeth, and avoiding dental checkups not only allows these odor-causing bacteria to flourish, but can also lead to diseases such as gingivitis. Because gingivitis makes the gums swollen and tender, the gums are very likely to bleed frequently. This bleeding can actually contribute to the symptoms of bad breath because the proteins in the blood provide more material for the bacteria to feed off of.
The symptoms of gingivitis-based halitosis include chronic bad breath in combination with plaque buildup and swollen and bleeding gums. For a bad breath diagnosis, tests can be performed at home, such as gently scraping the back of the tongue with a plastic spoon and smelling the drying residue. Professional tests include organoleptic measurements by a trained dental clinician and other molecular gas and enzyme detecting devices that will determine the amount of sulfurous compounds in the mouth air.
At the same time a bad breath diagnosis is being sought, it is also important to be inspected for gingivitis as the gum disease may be one of the root causes of the halitosis. In order to diagnose gingivitis, a dentist or dental hygienist will check the gums for signs of sensitivity, bleeding and swelling. They may also look for signs of significant buildups of plaque in the oral cavity and use periodontal probing instruments and X-rays to determine the extent of the disease.
The first step to preventing gingivitis and its associated bad breath is to maintain good dental hygiene. Brushing teeth and flossing daily not only helps to manage the amount of bacteria that resides in the mouth, thereby reducing daily halitosis occurrences, but it also reduces the amount of plaque buildup and strengthens the teeth and gums. Smoking or chewing tobacco and drinking alcohol reduce the amount of saliva in the mouth which contributes to bacterial buildup and weaker teeth and gums. Regular dental checkups every six months help to manage and eliminate any problems with plaque buildup before they turn into gingivitis and if gingivitis does occur; it can be caught and treated in very early stages.
When gingivitis is found in the gums, treatment is aimed at reducing the amount of bacteria in the oral cavity in total as well as removing the bacterial plaque that has built up and is causing the gums to be irritated in the first place. Frequent dental care visits and some of the same preventative care such as brushing, flossing and mouth washes can help treat gingivitis as well as the bad breath it causes. Other treatments such as curettage, root planing, scaling and even periodontal surgery can have very significant effects in controlling gingivitis before it turns into the more damaging periodontitis.
If gingivitis is not properly treated, several complications can arise that can magnify the severity of the disease and lead to other ailments. In addition to halitosis, gingivitis is related to tooth decay, tooth loss, infection and abscess of the jaw bone or gingiva, bacterial infections of the gums and mouth and swollen glands. Each of these could, in turn, further the symptoms of halitosis and recurrences of gingivitis if not properly treated. As previously mentioned, periodontitis is another significant progression from gingivitis, which entails the progressive loss of the alveolar bone around teeth.
Fortunately, the gum disease gingivitis and the halitosis resulting from it can be treated by dental professionals. The primary cause of both bad breath and gingivitis is bacteria, and controlling the total amount of bacteria in the mouth through proper dental hygiene is the primary line of defense against both diseases. Because bad breath is caused by the sulfurous gases of bacterial production, controlling the bacteria and plaque buildup not only can eliminate halitosis but can reverse the irritation of the gums that causes gingivitis. Without this irritation, the gums do not bleed and add more fuel to the odor causing bacteria. For the best prevention and treatment options for gingivitis and bad breath, see a dental professional.