Just in time for National Bad Breath Awareness Month -- we're in the middle of it now -- a Harvard School of Medicine report reveals that 90 percent of bad breath originates from oral bacteria.
From there, the report provides compelling evidence that the same bacteria that cause bad breath (halitosis) also cause gum disease. When plaque collects under the gums, bacteria in the gums release foul-smelling sulfur compounds.
Even more astonishing, perhaps, is the fact that the American Academy of Periodontology estimates that approximately 75 percent of Americans suffer from some form of gum disease.
Furthermore, there have been additional studies and articles over the last five years that underscore the reality that periodontal disease is a silent killer. Some articles have drawn connections between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and premature birthrate babies.
The symptoms of gum disease, according to the National Institutes of Health, not only includes bad breath, but also red or swollen gums, painful chewing, sensitive teeth, receding gums and loss of teeth.
Even with these findings, Dr. Harry Taub of Chess and Taub Family Dentistry in Jenkintown informs patients that although periodontal disease can arise from the bacteria causing bad breath, there are many other possible causes that patients should review with their doctors.
"You need to pinpoint the actual cause of the bad breath before deciding on a course of treatment, and you need to determine how serious your situation is," advises Taub.
One possible cause is post-nasal drip; others are gastric reflux and sulfur production on the base of the tongue. This means the bad breath can exist whether there is periodontal disease or not.
However, with mild cases, remedying the problem can be as simple as having your dentist show you how to use a toothbrush, dental floss and tongue scraper correctly, he says.
Philadelphia periodontist Dr. Stephen Brown, however, advocates the use of a relatively new FDA-approved dental technology (Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure, or LANAP) to treat gum disease.
He is one of a handful of creators of National Bad Breath Awareness month. Though he says his mission is to introduce more patients to this treatment -- which has yet to gain wide acceptance -- his motivation for Bad Breath Awareness Month (continuing to March 13) is to wake up the public to the reality that there can be more to bad breath than what meets the eye -- or the other senses.
A professor of periodontics at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University, as well as the operator of the dental implant center at the Einstein Healthcare Network, Brown explains that the laser employs a more direct and less painful process of treating disease.
When you cause the laser to fire, the energy is attracted to red, yellow, orange and black color found in the bacteria. The laser goes directly to those colors no matter where they rest within the mouth, and it vaporizes them.
Says Brown: "Unlike the old solution, cutting away from the gum and allowing the healing from the top down, with the laser, we vaporize the bacteria and create a clot that allows the body to heal from the bottom up.
"These bacteria are unique, in that they emit gasses, which are part of their life cycle. These gases are volatile sulfur compounds, which also inhabit the make-up of rotten eggs, and that's where the oppressive smell compounds.
"If the bacteria is still in the mouth, it does not matter how much you perfume the breath."
As for the laser, he notes, that "many of my colleagues have not shifted to that yet."
Though the laser was launched in 2004 after 18 years of development and some good press in dental trade journals, not everybody is convinced about this laser treatment.
Taub, who has discussed the matter with his own colleagues, says he feels more testing and scientific evaluation of the laser device will probably be necessary.
"There is no definitive research that suggests laser treatments fix the problem better than any other conventional treatment, according to findings with the American Association of Periodontists," he says.