How to Deal with Bad Breath (Halitosis)
At one point or another, we all may have suffered from “bad breath.” For most of us, this problem goes away after gargling with mouthwash, brushing teeth, or popping a mint. For others, beating halitosis is more challenging: it can be chronic and can last for months.
Causes of Bad Breath
- Neglected Oral Hygiene
Hygiene is one of the top suspects when it comes to halitosis. Cleaning your mouth the way your dentist recommends removes a colourless, sticky film of bacteria called plaque, which contributes to breath smell.
- Gum Disease
Periodontal disease can progress through different stages, influencing bad breath:
- Buildup of plaque initially causes gums to bleed. This enlarges the spaces between teeth and gums. Food debris gets stuck in these spaces, where bacteria then take residence, causing an unpleasant smell in the mouth.
- If the disease progresses, the pH level and oral microbiome change and worsen bad breath. Inflammation in the gums increases, providing bacteria with better access to nerves and blood. At this point, the smell being emitted from the mouth is no longer caused by food, but by decaying blood cells. The odour also changes.
- Tongue Coating
When neither teeth or gums are the culprits for bad breath, the tongue may be at fault. The tongue has grooves and bumps that make it an ideal trap for bacteria and tiny food debris. Coating appears on the surface of the tongue toward the back of the mouth. It is a mix of mucus and sulphur compounds. Just like plaque, it causes bad breath.
- Dietary Choices
When food is digested, odour-causing chemicals are absorbed into the bloodstream, enter the lungs, and are exhaled through the mouth. Diets that are rich in protein and sugar have been linked to halitosis. Food and beverages that have a reputation for contributing to bad breath include:
- Spicy food
- Tuna and most kinds of fish
- Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
- Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
Saliva cleans out the mouth. Xerostomia is a condition where saliva production is decreased, often leading to bad breath. While it is normal to experience dry mouth while you’re asleep (the cause of “morning breath”), chronic dry mouth must be checked by an oral healthcare provider. It might be related to issues with the salivary glands, or other illnesses.
Using tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco) almost always causes an unpleasant odour in the mouth. Tobacco users are also known to be susceptible to gum disease.
How to Know if You Have Bad Breath
If you know your breath isn’t fresh, you can take measures to fix the problem. Unfortunately, many of us are unaware of any unpleasant breath smell emanating from our mouths. If you suspect that something is amiss, here are good ways to test how your breath smells:
- Do a Sniff Test – Check your breath
- Stick a piece of dental floss between two teeth at the back of your mouth, remove it, and smell the floss.
- Lick a small part of your wrist and take a sniff once it dries.
- Use a tongue-scraper to scrape the tongue, then smell the scraper.
- Ask Someone You Trust – A surefire way to know what your breath smells like to ask. This is often a difficult (and awkward) question. To avoid putting another person on the spot, approach a friend or family member to whom you are very close. Better yet — ask your dentist. They can assess the odour, identify its origin, and suggest treatment options.
- Consider the Taste – Sometimes, you can “taste” your breath. If your mouth has a funny feeling, it can be reflective of how it smells. In most cases, this is caused by food consumed. A quick fix for this is swish your mouth with water after eating or drinking anything.
Types of Bad Breath
Identifying the kind of smell being emitted can help pinpoint what’s causing it. The oral-systemic link helps a dentist identify potential issues in the body that may be connected to your breath.
Different types of smells include:
- Fishy: May point to issues in the kidney (increased urea levels may cause the smell of fish)
- Cheesy: may indicate nasal problems
- Acidic: might be caused by cystic fibrosis or asthma
- Musty, sweet scent: may be a sign of liver cirrhosis
- Ammonia: could indicate kidney problems
- Fruity: may signal uncontrolled diabetes
- Fecal: may be a symptom of bowel obstruction
When to See a Professional
When bad breath is accompanied by bleeding, inflamed gums — or loose teeth — call your dentist. On the other hand, if bad breath is accompanied by fever, a postnasal drip, sore throat, cough, or discoloured nasal discharge, you may need to call your doctor.
Make an appointment with your dentist if halitosis persists, despite your efforts to clean your teeth and eat a healthy diet.
Bad Breath Treatment
Lower your risk of gum disease and cavities by practicing better oral habits. Your dentist can determine if further treatment is needed, especially in more serious cases of halitosis. For bad breath that is caused by underlying medical conditions, a dentist might refer you to a doctor.
Preventing Bad Breath
Preventing bad breath caused by oral health issues isn’t always difficult. Brushing and flossing — and the occasional use of mouthwash — are a great start. Other ideas include:
- Proper brushing technique
Dental experts suggest brushing teeth at least twice a day, once in the morning and once before you go to sleep. When cleaning your mouth, remember to include “scraping” your tongue. You can use a special tool for this or your toothbrush.
- Floss daily
Floss at least once a day (preferably before bed) to get rid of food debris and plaque that might have gotten stuck between teeth. To avoid damage, don’t force floss between teeth or under the gumline. To remove floss from between teeth, use a gentle back-and-forth motion.
- Regularly visiting the dentist
Visiting your dentist regularly allows your oral health care team to identify and diagnose possible health issues quickly. They will track your oral and overall health and suggest solutions.
Another way to keep bad breath at bay is by drinking plenty of water to encourage saliva production. Water can also loosen and wash away food particles. Carry sugarless lozenges, gum, mints, a small bottle of mouthwash, or a breath spray for “emergency bad breath situations.”
The state of oral health is connected to general well-being. Maintaining strong oral hygiene habits and taking care of your teeth has been shown to boost self-confidence and encourage a positive state of mind.
If you want fresher breath and a beautiful smile, call Lambton Shores Family Dental. Our dentists in Forest and Kettle Point, Ontario have warm, inviting clinics. Call us at (519) 704-1400 to make an appointment.