How to Eliminate Odor in Gums

By: Shanna Freeman  | 

Clearly, this dude's got stinky breath. Could his gums be the culprits?
Clearly, this dude's got stinky breath. Could his gums be the culprits?
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

You may have read the title of this article and thought, "Odor coming from your gums? Isn't it all just bad breath?" Although we tend to lump any unpleasant odors emanating from our mouths under the umbrella of "bad breath," there are actually different causes and sources of mouth odors. Of course, getting rid of bad breath can be as simple as popping a mint (garlic lovers know what we're talking about). But if you have chronic bad breath, there could be something more serious going on. Pinpointing the source of the odor in your mouth puts you one step closer to eliminating it. If your gums are the culprits, a mint won't help -- it's just temporarily covering up the problem.

Gum odor has two main sources: trapped food and periodontal disease. Often, the smell comes from bacteria that live in your mouth, or rather, their gaseous waste products (these can include sulfur, which gives off a distinctive rotten-egg aroma). Bacteria thrive in anaerobic, or low-oxygen, environments, and your mouth fits the bill. They especially like to congregate below your gum line, between your teeth and in pockets created by loose teeth, dental work or other dental problems. Their food sources -- including protein found in our saliva or in food remnants -- can be located there in abundance.

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While the idea of trapped food seems self-explanatory, periodontal disease, aka gum disease, warrants more explanation. It's a progressive, inflammatory disease of the gums and other tissues that surround and support the teeth. In severe cases, it can lead to tissue destruction and bone loss. Next, find out what you can do to eliminate gum odor (and its causes) for good.

Preventing Gum Odor

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.

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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.

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Originally Published: Sep 7, 2011

Odor in Gums FAQ

How do you get rid of an infection in your gums?
In addition to being very painful, an infection can be a sign of a more serious condition, so call your dentist immediately. They may advise you to come in for an appointment or send you straight to your doctor to get a prescription for antibiotics. In some cases, your dentist will do a root planing and scaling treatment, which cleans between your gums and teeth all the way to the roots. In the meantime, be sure to brush your teeth well two to three times a day and floss at least once per day.
Why does it smell when I floss my teeth?
Well, if you're using mint flavored floss, expect to smell mint! But if you're smelling something not quite that fresh, it's likely food particles that got stuck in your gums and rotted.
Can gum disease make your breath smell?
Yes, many dentists say that they can diagnose periodontitis simply by the smell coming from a patients' gums. Plaque builds up below the gum line, irritating the gums and causing a reaction that destroys tissue and bone, leaving pockets that create a breeding ground for bacteria and infection; all of which smells awful.
What does a decaying tooth smell like?
A severely decaying or rotting tooth can give off an odor much like sulfur or rotten eggs. However, a tooth with a cavity (which is decay) will not produce an odor until the damage is significant.
What does it mean when your breath smells bad all the time?
Most bad breath is caused by what's happening in your mouth or stomach. Unmanaged or undiagnosed diabetes can make breath smell metallic, sweet, or even fruity. An infection in your mouth, throat, or lungs - including periodontal disease - may cause your breath to smell like rot. A low-carb diet can make breath smell like acetone - the same stuff used in nail polish remover. Kidney issues can smell like ammonia or urine. People with liver disease may have breath that smells musty or like mothballs. There are a number of other conditions and diseases that have symptoms involving a distinct odor coming from the mouth. If this is of concern to you, speak with your doctor immediately.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • American Academy of Periodontology. "Types of gum disease." April 1, 2011. (Oct. 24, 2011) http://www.perio.org/consumer/2a.html
  • American Dental Association. "Halitosis." 2011. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.ada.org/3044.aspx?currentTab=1
  • American Dental Hygienists' Association. "Proper Brushing." 2011.(Oct. 24, 2011) http://www.adha.org/oralhealth/brushing.htm
  • American Dental Hygienists' Association. "Proper Flossing." 2011. (Oct. 24, 2011) http://www.adha.org/oralhealth/flossing.htm
  • Haaque, Susan. "Microbiology of Plaque." Periodontic Information Center, UCLA School of Dentistry. 1998. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.dent.ucla.edu/pic/members/microbio/mdphome.html
  • Urquhart, John. "What is deep cleaning?" Dental Fear Central. 2007. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.dentalfearcentral.org/faq/deep-cleaning/
  • WebMD. "Root planing and scaling for gum disease." Aug. 21, 2007. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/root-planing-and-scaling-for-gum-disease
  • WMDS. "Bad breath: causes and risk factors." Animated Teeth. 2011. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://www.animated-teeth.com/bad_breath/t2_causes_of_bad_breath.htm

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