Bad breath (also known as halitosis) is a common concern for many patients. More often than not, though, it has a relatively straightforward remedy.
Halitosis is usually caused by one of the following:
- Poor oral hygiene (plaque left on your teeth for extended periods of time)
- Dental disease
- Dry mouth
- Foods with a strong scent (eg. garlic, onion)
Bad breath can also be due to a systemic cause, such as:
- Extreme dieting
- Acid reflux
- Medical conditions, such as diabetes
The most common cause of bad breath is infrequent, or ineffective, brushing and flossing. If plaque is not effectively removed from the teeth regularly, bacteria in this plaque can develop an unpleasant odour, and this is transferred to your breath. Similarly, any food debris left within your mouth for an extended period of time will soil and eventually give off an undesirable smell.
Dry mouth (“xerostomia”) is another leading cause of halitosis. Saliva has an important role in helping to clear away food and debris from your mouth after eating. If you are not producing enough saliva, this cleansing action is limited and food may be left in your mouth.
The foods and drinks you consume can also give you bad breath. Generally, these foods or drinks will only cause bad breath for as long as they are in your system. The aromas in foods such as garlic and onion, or drinks such as coffee or alcohol, are absorbed into the bloodstream where they are then transferred to the lungs. Once here, the scent can freely escape through your mouth when you breathe!
If you are a smoker, this can also be contributing to bad breath. Not only does smoking dry out your mouth, it also causes an accumulation of bacteria in your mouth. The smoke and its associated chemicals are also inhaled deep into your lungs, which allows the scent to be later exhaled when you breathe.
What can you do?
If you are experiencing bad breath and are unsure of the cause or what you can do to overcome it, having a chat with your oral health professional is the best place to start. We can help to identify what’s causing the bad breath and provide information on how you can reverse this – for example by improving your oral hygiene. If we suspect that the malodour may have a systemic cause, we can also point you in the direction of someone who can further identify this, then work with you to overcome it.
Seven quick tips to help protect you from bad breath:
- Brush twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste and be sure to floss daily – flossing will help remove the bacteria your toothbrush can’t reach!
- Brush your tongue (a tongue scraper may also be used).
- Stay hydrated to prevent your mouth from drying out.
- Chew sugar-free gum between meals (this will help to clear food from your mouth as well as increasing your saliva flow).
- Minimise intake of strongly scented foods and drinks, such as coffee, alcohol, garlic and onion
- If you are a smoker, ask your dental professional for assistance in helping you to quit.
- Schedule regular professional dental cleans and checks.