We’ve all had our fair share of bad breath at some point. Whether it’s morning breath or, more serious, chronic conditions, bad breath is unpleasant for those around you (surprise, surprise) and detrimental to your health.
You’ll know you’re guilty of it when alongside the bad breath odor, you have a residing bad taste in your mouth–which can be either from trapped food particles or an underlying condition. Whichever symptom, it’s uncomfortable, undesirable, and unhealthy.
So in this short read, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about bad breath’s causes, risks, fixes and prevention, and when to see a dentist.
Why do I have bad breath? (Causes)
Poor oral hygiene
Every time we eat, our mouths have bacteria that break down food particles trapped in between the teeth or mouth. It’s handy, but the combination of decaying food and bacteria also produces bad breath. So if you don’t brush, rinse, and floss to pick out the sneaky food remains, you’re letting the harmful bacteria multiply in your mouth. That stinks.
Irregular brushing also causes plaque build-up, which is another culprit for bad breath odor. The unhealthy build-up can cause cavities and periodontal disease–if there were a way to snowball bad breath, perio breath would be it.
Lastly, if you have dentures and don’t clean them regularly, bad breath will find you, too.
Sinus, mouth, or throat conditions
You could also develop bad breath if you have certain oral conditions. Such as:
» Sinus infection/bronchitis/postnasal drainage: the mucus developed in any of these conditions, like your infected sinus, smells bad. So, as it drips out of the sinuses or backs down the throat while your mouth is open (since your nose is usually congested), it meets the air you’re exhaling–from where it transfers to your breath.
» Dry mouth: saliva deficiency also causes bad breath. The saliva in our mouths cleans it and removes particles that may cause bad odors. You can increase saliva flow for a dry mouth and keep your mouth moist by drinking more water during the day, sucking sugarless lozenges, or chewing sugarless gum.
Smoking can cause bad breath because the tobacco smoke itself lingers on your breath well after you’re done with the cigarette. It also dries up your mouth, which, as mentioned in the previous section, causes bad breath because there’s no saliva to clean up the mouth. Lastly, smoking or even chewing tobacco-based products causes gum disease–another source of bad breath.
Stenchy foods and beverages
Some foods, like garlic and onions, have strong odors, and when your stomach absorbs their oils during digestion, they pass into your bloodstream and travel to your lungs.
♦ Diabetes: higher glucose levels promote bacteria growth, infection, and thereby bad breath. It’s also harder to fight infection if your blood sugar is high–so your gums are more susceptible to disease with slower recovery.
♦ Kidney disease: bad breath is a common oral symptom because the dysfunctional kidney can’t filter out the excessive urea in the bloodstream.
♦ Liver disease: if your breath has a strong, musty smell, then it could be a sign that your liver is having trouble filtering out toxic substances.
♦ Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD): a medical condition where your stomach contents like undigested food, bile, and stomach acid reflux up your esophagus–leaving residue around your mouth and mixing with oral bacteria to make the foul breath odor stronger.
Bad breath is already unsettling and disgusting as it is, and the probability of disease is greater. As if that’s not bad enough, it can also impact your body image and self-confidence. You may have even noticed yourself being anti-social or distant, so people don’t have to be around your smelly breath.
Low self-esteem won’t help you make valuable relationships with others. So there goes a nice social life, too.
You have all the reason to say “screw you” too bad breath and no reason to let it go on. The following are tips and treatments for getting rid of bad breath.
Proper oral hygiene for bad breath prevention
For most people, poor dental hygiene is one of the leading causes of bad breath. So, the solution? Good oral hygiene, of course. It can eliminate existing bad breath and prevent it from recurring in the future. We cover what that entails here:
♦ Brush your teeth twice a day for 2 minutes–as that’s the optimal time to make sure your teeth are cleaned thoroughly. An electric toothbrush is also advisable because it’s more effective in removing dental plaque and improving gingival health.
♦ Flossing your teeth can help minimize bad breath by removing hard-to-reach food remains and regulating bacteria and plaque build-up in the gums.
♦ Mouthwash will only temporarily mask bad breath if you use it without brushing–but using it in conjunction with brush and floss has been shown to reduce plaque. Look for an antiseptic mouthwash that can reduce or control plaque over a cosmetic one (strictly for fresh smell). Also, try to stay away from alcoholic mouthwashes that can dry the mouth, and as aforementioned, salivary deficiency can lead to bad breath.
♦ Professional dental cleaning may be required if the situation is beyond DIY methods. Dental hygienists have advanced tools and training to thoroughly clean your mouth, and give you a fresh start.
Treat the diseases causing lousy breath
If conditions or diseases are causing your bad breath problem, then your situation is just as much a physician’s problem as a dentist’s. In other words, you need to treat the medical issues that are causing bad breath odors as a byproduct.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
Halitosis has recently been treated with antimicrobial photodynamic therapy (PDT). Basically, photosensitizers (light-absorbing molecules) absorb a specific wavelength of visible light–which triggers a series of reactions that ultimately transfer energy to a bacterium’s oxygen molecules, killing the cells within.
PDT has demonstrated promising results in treating bad breath. Unlike chemical mouthwashes, tongue scrapers, chewing gum, sprays, or tablets that may cause excessive tongue excoriation with transudation and desquamation, there are zero reports of adverse effects or toxicity from PDT.
When to seek professional help
If your bad breath is persisting after all the troubleshooting, check in with your dentist. With professional advice, you can discover what may be causing the problem. After a thorough dental exam and cleaning, your dentist can help rule out any oral health concerns and provide advice on the next steps. That includes dental products to use, dental hygiene instructions, and referrals to other medical providers if need be.
Bad breath can be annoying. But, now you know its potential origins and what to do about it. You’re equipped with the proper knowledge to fight and prevent bad breath.
About The Author:
Karen Nunez was born in Valenzuela, Philippines. She received her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree from Centro Escolar University in Manila.
Karen currently is a practicing oral health care professional based in Alberta, Canada; and runs a Blog where she writes a slew of articles to empower internationally trained dentists to integrate into Canadian dentistry.
Read more of her blogs here.