The proper medical name for bad breath is halitosis, a condition that can be very embarrassing. It's something that can often arise as a result of poor oral hygiene, but sometimes it can be a sign of other health problems. Most people will have an occasional bout of bad breath due to eating strongly flavoured foods such as those containing onions or garlic or through having lifestyle habits such as smoking.
How Can Eating Highly Flavoured Foods Give You Bad Breath?
As food is digested it’s absorbed into the bloodstream and can be carried round the body eventually reaching the lungs where the odours are expelled on your breath. If you do eat something that gives you bad breath then it's only possible to temporarily mask the odour as it will not completely disappear until the food is expelled from your body.
How Can Poor Oral Hygiene Give You Bad Breath?
Twice-daily brushing and flossing once a day helps to remove food particles caught in between the teeth and bacteria from your teeth and gums as well as from your tongue. If not removed these food particles will begin to rot, and along with a build-up of bacteria can create noxious odours.
Bad breath can also be caused by failing to clean dental appliances correctly, including braces and dentures. If these dental appliances don't fit properly then it can increase the risk of tooth decay and yeast infections, both of which can cause halitosis.
Having persistent bad breath can often be a sign of gum disease, a bacterial infection of the gums which is caused by plaque building up on the teeth. The bacteria in plaque create toxins that irritate the gums and causing inflammation that can result in the gum tissue being destroyed. It might also be due to untreated tooth decay.
What Are the Medical Conditions and Diseases That Might Cause Bad Breath?
A common medical condition called xerostomia or dry mouth can cause bad breath as it results in a lack of saliva. Saliva has an important role to play in oral health, helping to wash away dead cells, plaque and particles of food, and helping to neutralise acids the produced by plaque bacteria. Insufficient saliva can increase the risk of gum disease and tooth decay, and dry mouth can be as a result of taking various prescription medications, mouth breathing or problems with the salivary glands.
There are quite a few diseases that can cause bad breath, including respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia, sinus infections, acid reflux, diabetes and liver and kidney problems.
What Can Be Done to Treat Bad Breath?
It is a good idea to try to discover the reason for persistent bad breath, and to take action to remedy the problem. Things that may help include:
If you think you might have bad breath then it's best to book an appointment with your dentist for a proper examination and diagnosis, and find out if any treatment is required for gum disease or tooth decay. Having your teeth professionally cleaned by a hygienist will help improve breath through removing hardened plaque or tartar from your teeth.
Having a proper oral hygiene routine will ensure your mouth remains as free as possible from food debris and plaque. It's important to brush twice a day and to floss once a day, and to replace your toothbrush at regular intervals when it begins to look worn and frayed.
Using mouthwash will temporarily freshen up your breath, but it might help to choose one with antimicrobial agents or which contains fluoride.
Using a tongue scraper can help to remove excess bacteria and food particles from the tongue.
Any removable dental appliances should be thoroughly cleaned, and should be regularly checked by your dentist to make sure they fit correctly.
Smoking is a well-known cause of bad breath, so quitting should help improve your breath and your oral and general health.
Making sure you remain well hydrated will ensure your body can produce sufficient saliva. If you have dry mouth then ask your dentist about saliva substitutes, or try sucking sugar free sweets or chewing sugar-free gum to help stimulate the production of saliva.
Sometimes there might be no immediately obvious reason as to why you have bad breath, and in this case your dentist will probably recommend you visit your doctor for further tests. If your bad breath is due to prescription medications, or if these medications are causing dry mouth then it might be worth asking your doctor if they can prescribe anything different or can lower the dosage. It's important to continue taking prescription medication unless otherwise advised by your doctor.