Having bad breath isn’t exactly a roundtable topic (well, maybe it is if you’re a health professional), but it’s a common problem that many of us suffer from – even if we’d rather not discuss it.
And while bad breath (also known as halitosis) can make us feel embarrassed, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Halitosis (bad breath) is mostly caused by sulphur-producing bacteria that normally live on the surface of the tongue as well as in the throat. Sometimes, these bacteria start to break down proteins at a very high rate and odorous volatile sulphur compounds (VSC) are released from the back of the tongue and throat. The mouth’s warm, moist conditions are ideal for the growth of these bacteria. Most bad breath is caused by something in the mouth however it is important to note that Halitosis is not infectious.
Some types of bad breath are considered to be fairly normal. They usually are not health concerns. One example is ‘morning mouth.’ This occurs because of changes in your mouth while you sleep. During the day, saliva washes away decaying food and odours. The body makes less saliva at night, your mouth becomes dry, and dead cells stick to your tongue and to the inside of your cheeks. When bacteria use these cells for food, they produce a foul odour.
In addition, bad breath can be caused by the following:
Most bad breath starts in your mouth, and there are many possible causes. They include:
- The breakdown of food particles in and around your teeth can increase bacteria and cause a foul odour. Eating certain foods, such as onions, garlic and spices as well as drinking coffee, can cause bad breath. After you digest these foods, they enter your bloodstream, are carried to your lungs and affect your breath.
- Tobacco products. Smoking causes its own unpleasant mouth odour. Smokers and oral tobacco users are also more likely to have gum disease, another source of bad breath.
- Poor dental hygiene. If you don’t brush and floss daily, food particles remain in your mouth, causing bad breath. A colourless, sticky film of bacteria (plaque) forms on your teeth. If not brushed away, plaque can irritate your gums and eventually form plaque-filled pockets between your teeth and gums (periodontitis). Your tongue also can trap bacteria that produce odours. Dentures that aren’t cleaned regularly or don’t fit properly can harbour odour-causing bacteria and food particles.
- Dry mouth. Saliva helps cleanse your mouth, removing particles that cause bad odours. A condition called dry mouth or xerostomia can contribute to bad breath because production of saliva is decreased. Dry mouth naturally occurs during sleep, leading to “morning breath,” and it worsens if you sleep with your mouth open. Chronic dry mouth can be caused by a problem with your salivary glands and some diseases.
- Some medications can indirectly produce bad breath by contributing to dry mouth. Others can be broken down in the body to release chemicals that can be carried on your breath.
- Infections in your mouth. Bad breath can be caused by surgical wounds after oral surgery, such as tooth removal, or as a result of tooth decay, gum disease or mouth sores.
- Other mouth, nose and throat conditions. Bad breath can occasionally stem from small stones that form in the tonsils and are covered with bacteria that produce odour. Infections or chronic inflammation in the nose, sinuses or throat, which can contribute to postnasal drip, also can cause bad breath.
A dentist or physician may notice bad breath during an office visit. Your dentist will review your medical history for conditions that can cause bad breath and for medicines that can cause dry mouth. It is important for your dentist to ask about your diet, personal habits (smoking, chewing tobacco) and any other symptoms you may have. Your dentist will then examine your teeth, gums, mouth and salivary glands to determine a solution.
In some cases, your dentist may refer you to your family physician if an illness is the most likely cause or in severe cases of gum disease, your dentist may suggest that you see a periodontist (dentist who specialises in gum problems).
How long bad breath lasts depends on its cause. For example, when the problem results from poor dental hygiene, proper dental care will begin to freshen the mouth almost immediately. You’ll have even better results after a few days of regular brushing and flossing. Periodontal disease and tooth abscess also respond quickly to proper dental treatment. Bad breath that results from an illness may be a long-term problem, however it can often be controlled with proper medical care.
Bad breath caused by dental problems can be prevented easily with proper home and professional care.
- Brush your teeth, tongue and gums after meals and floss daily. This is the most important factor if your bad breath is caused by dental problems.
- Rinse with a mouthwash approved by the Australian Dental Association (ADA).
- Visit the dentist regularly (at least twice a year) for an exam and tooth cleaning.
- If you are a smoker, consider quitting. Not only does it make your breath smell bad, it also stains your teeth and makes you more likely to get gum disease.
- Avoid eating too many sugary foods and drinks, which encourage bacterial growth in the mouth, and are also a cause of tooth erosion.
You also can combat bad breath by drinking plenty of water every day to help your body make saliva. An occasional swish of the mouth with water can loosen bits of food. Sugar-free gum or sugar-free breath mints can help you keep breath fresh and prevent plaque from forming.
How can you tell if you have bad breath?
It can be hard to know if you have halitosis, because it’s difficult to judge whether your own breath smells normal or not. A close friend or relative may be able to judge far more accurately than you can whether your breath is bad or not.
Since most cases of halitosis originate from inside the mouth, your first step should be a re-evaluation of your basic brushing and rinsing technique. While cleaning the teeth is necessary, it is of paramount importance that you give extra focus to the tongue—this is where a large amount of the bacteria lives that’s causing your bad breath. Remember that brushing alone cleans only 25% of your mouth. Add rinsing to get your whole mouth clean.
If you don’t notice an improvement, your next step should be a visit to your dentist. Getting a professional opinion and finding out what you can do about the problem may help you feel better! Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to share your secret with a licensed professional. Dobson Dental is committed to accessing your needs with the highest discretion.