What is Bad Breath?
There’s no shame in having halitosis (or bad breath, as it is more commonly known). In fact, 95% of us suffer from bad breath at some time in our lives, and one in four adults suffers from bad breath on a regular basis. A quick way to test the potency of your breath is to lick the inside of your wrist with the back of your tongue, let it dry for a few seconds, and then smell. If you subsequently find yourself recoiling in horror from a foul stench, then you should perhaps consider visiting your dental hygienist.
Bad breath usually stems from poor oral hygiene (including neglecting the tongue area, which hosts the bacteria that cause bad breath). However, smoking and drinking too much alcohol can also contribute. Sprays, mints and chewing gum will only temporarily mask your bad breath, whereas improving your oral hygiene will ultimately pay-off. Talk to your dentist if you’re concerned about bad breath. He or she can help identify the cause and, if it’s due to an oral condition, develop a treatment plan to help eliminate it.
If you have bad breath, review your oral hygiene habits. Try making lifestyle changes, such as brushing your teeth and tongue after eating, using dental floss, and drinking plenty of water. If your bad breath persists after making such changes, see your dentist. If your dentist suspects a more serious condition is causing your bad breath, he or she may refer you to a physician to find the cause of the odor.
Your dentist will review your medical history for conditions that can cause bad breath and for medicines that can cause dry mouth. Your dentist also will ask you about your diet, personal habits (smoking, chewing tobacco) and any symptoms. He or she also will ask who noticed the bad breath and when.
Your dentist will likely smell both the breath from your mouth and the breath from your nose and rate the odor on a scale. Because the back of the tongue is most often the source of the smell, your dentist may also scrape it and rate its odor. There are sophisticated detectors that can identify the chemicals responsible for bad breath, though these aren’t always available.
There are many causes for breath odor.
Bad breath caused by dental problems can be prevented easily with proper home and professional care.
- Food collected between the teeth, on the tongue and around the gums can also rot, leaving an unpleasant odor. Foods contribute to breath odor. Once the food is absorbed into the bloodstream, it’s transferred to the lungs where it’s expelled. Brushing, flossing and mouthwash will only mask the odor temporarily; odors continue until the body eliminates the food.
- Bad breath can also be caused by dry mouth (known as xerostomia), which occurs when the flow of saliva decreases. Saliva cleanses the mouth and removes particles that may cause odor.
- Local infections in the respiratory tract, chronic sinusitis, postnasal drip, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, gastrointestinal disturbance, and liver or kidney ailment can cause breath odor.
- Other culprits include poor dental hygiene, dry mouth, disease, infection, tobacco use and severe dieting.
Care and Treatment:
To reduce bad breath, help avoid cavities and lower your risk of gum disease, consistently practice good oral hygiene. Further treatment for bad breath can vary, depending on the cause. If your bad breath is thought to be caused by an underlying health condition, your dentist will likely refer you to your primary care provider. For causes related to oral health, your dentist will work with you to help you better control that condition. Dental measures must include:
- Mouth rinses and toothpastes –If bad breath is due to a buildup of bacteria (plaque) on your teeth, your dentist may recommend a mouth rinse that kills the bacteria. Your dentist may also recommend a toothpaste that contains an antibacterial agent to kill the bacteria that cause plaque buildup.
- Treatment of dental disease –If you have gum disease, you may be referred to a gum specialist (periodontist). Gum disease can cause gums to pull away from your teeth, leaving deep pockets that fill with odor-causing bacteria. Sometimes only professional cleaning removes these bacteria. Your dentist might also recommend replacing faulty tooth restorations, a breeding ground for bacteria.
If your breath condition is due to mouth problems, make sure to consult your dentist immediately. However, if you think that your breath issue is due to an underlying medical condition, it would be best to consult your physician first to determine the main cause and to find the right treatment for it.