There are very few things upon which the whole of humanity can agree. But our revulsion towards bad breath can certainly be counted as one.
No one wants bad breath and no one wants to be around someone with bad breath. But is there anything you can do about it? To find out, let’s start at the beginning.
What is bad breath?
Bad breath, or halitosis, is mostly the product of sulphur-producing bacteria, normally living on the surface of the tongue or the throat. The bad odour is caused by the bacterial wastes left in the mouth, as well as decaying food particles and other debris in your mouth. Poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, disease, infection, tobacco use and severe dieting can all contribute to halitosis too, but fortunately, while unpleasant, halitosis is not infectious.
What causes halitosis?
Apart from bacteria that colonise at the back of the tongue, halitosis can be caused by any of the following:
- Dental factors: such as infection around the teeth (periodontitis) or tooth decay.
- Poor dental hygiene: infrequent or improper brushing and flossing will allow bits of food to remain stuck in between the teeth and decay over time. Poor oral hygiene also leads to periodontal (gum) disease, as well as bad breath.
- Dry mouth (xerostomia): This can be the result of salivary gland problems, the taking of certain medicines, alcohol consumption, stress, medical conditions or “mouth breathing”. In fact, a large number of prescription and over-the-counter medicines can cause dry mouth.
- Illness: A variety of dieseases – such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, lung disease, sinus disease, reflux disease among more – can cause halitosis.
- Smoking: This starves the mouth of oxygen which can contribute to bad breath.
- Certain foods: It won’t be a shock to you that certain foods, such as garlic and onions, induce certain odours. However, the effects of food are only short-lived.
- Acid and bile reflux from the stomach.
- Post-nasal drip.
So, can it be controlled?
The manner in which you treat halitosis will vary from circumstance to circumstance and there is no single treatment for it. Controlling halitosis will depend on what is causing the problem in the first place.
Saliva, interestingly, is the key ingredient in your mouth working to keep odour under control by washing away food particles and bacteria – both of which are primary causes of bad breath. Think about when you sleep; your salivary glands slow down saliva production, which allows bacteria to grow. When you wake up, you experience “morning breath”, which you can rid yourself of by brushing your teeth or eating breakfast.
Morning breath also is associated with hunger or fasting. If you skip breakfast, just be aware that the odour may return even after you’ve brushed your teeth. You can minimise bad breath by staying hydrated and practicing good hygiene. This means brushing and flossing at least twice a day, including brushing of the tongue to remove bacteria and food particles. Flossing removes acumulated bacteria as well, and plaque and food trapped between your teeth.
When it comes to cleaning your tongue, use your toothbrush or a specially designed tongue scraper, which is a plastic tool used to literally scrape away the bacteria that builds on your tongue.
Chewing sugar-free gum can also help control odours. If you have dentures or removable dental appliances, such as a retainer or mouthguard, clean the appliance thoroughly before placing it in your mouth.
As for mouth-rinsers, talk with your dentist prior to using any mouth-wash as these products tend to only mask odours temporarily and certain products are more effective than others.
Is there anything my dentist can do?
Of course there is! Regular visits to your dentist will ensure that any physical problems can be detected early on and dealt with accordingly. If you’re particularly concerned that you’re suffering from bad breath, your dentist can help determine its cause.
Regular examinations will keep your dental health on track and help reduce the likelihood of developing severe halitosis. During hygiene visits, your dentists will also get rid of the plaque and bacteria that has built up from your teeth.
Some dentists may ask you to schedule a separate, specific appointment to find the source of the odour. If it is believed that the problem might be caused by a systemic source, meaning internally, such as an infection, you may be referred to your family physican or a specialist to find a remedy for the problem.
Whether your bad breath is the result of poor hygiene, unfortunate illness, prescription medication or anything else, ignoring the problem will definitely not help the situation. So, make sure you book an appointment to see your dentist and remember to bring up the issue with them.
By Trang Nguyen, Hygienist