The first stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis, a buildup of plaque that causes red, swollen and bleeding gums. Plaque is that pale yellow film on teeth formed by layers of bacteria, and it can really build up along the gum line. You can keep plaque from causing gingivitis by maintaining a good dental hygiene routine and paying attention to your gums. This will also get rid of any food particles lingering around that may lead to nasty gum odors later on.
Brushing and flossing twice a day are musts. Start at the gum line (which many people neglect) with the brush tilted at a 45-degree angle, rolling it up and down before moving on to scrubbing the actual biting surfaces of your teeth. When flossing, zigzag the floss between each tooth and go under the gum line. Dentists also recommend getting a professional cleaning and exam every six months. You can remove plaque at home, but over time it hardens into a substance called tartar and has to be removed by a dental professional. Their ultrasonic cleaning tools break up the tartar, and special instruments remove it from both above and below the gum line in a process known as scaling.
Left untreated, gingivitis can turn into periodontitis. Plaque builds below the gum line, irritating the gums and causing a reaction that makes your body turn on itself, destroying tissue and bone. This leaves pockets that create even more breeding ground for bacteria and potential infection. Many dentists say that they can diagnose periodontitis simply by the smell emanating from their patients' gums (although X-rays and an exam are the final diagnosis). While the loss can't be reversed, dentists can remove the cause of the disease through the use of deeper cleaning techniques such as root planing, which involves scaling the roots of your teeth. The dentist may numb the area to minimize pain and also use antibiotics or other medication if there are pockets.
But don't let it get to that point. If you have chronic gum odor, or any other problem with your teeth or mouth, see your dentist immediately. It's about much more than just bad breath.