Whether you call it bad breath or halitosis, it's an unpleasant condition that's cause for embarrassment. Some people with bad breath aren't even aware there's a problem. If you're concerned about bad breath, see your dentist. 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.
What you eat affects the air you exhale. Certain foods, such as garlic and onions, contribute to objectionable breath odor. Once the food is absorbed into the bloodstream, it is transferred to the lungs, where it is expelled. Brushing, flossing and mouthwash will only mask the odor temporarily. Odors continue until the body eliminates the food. Dieters may develop unpleasant breath from infrequent eating.
If you don't brush and floss daily, particles of food remain in the mouth, collecting bacteria, which can cause bad breath. Food that collects between the teeth, on the tongue and around the gums can rot, leaving an unpleasant odor.
Bad breath can also be caused by dry mouth (xerostomia), which occurs when the flow of saliva decreases. Saliva is necessary to cleanse the mouth and remove particles that may cause odor. Dry mouth may be caused by various medications, salivary gland problems or continuously breathing through the mouth. If you suffer from dry mouth, your dentist may prescribe anartificial saliva, or suggest using sugarless candy and increasing your fluid intake.
Tobacco products cause bad breath. If you use tobacco, ask your dentist for tips on kicking the habit.
Bad breath may be the sign of a medical disorder, such as a local infection in the respiratory tract, chronic sinusitis, postnasal drip, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, gastrointestinal disturbance, liver or kidney ailment. If your dentist determines that your mouth is healthy, you may be referred to your family doctor or a specialist to determine the cause of bad breath.
Maintaining good oral health is essential to reducing bad breath. Schedule regular dental visits for a professional cleaning and checkup. If you think you have constant bad breath, keep a log of the foods you eat and make a list of medications you take. Some medications may play a role in creating mouth odors. Let your dentist know if you've had any surgery or illness since your last appointment.
Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove food debris and plaque. Brush your tongue, too. Once a day, use floss or an interdental cleaner to clean between teeth.
Mouthwashes are generally cosmetic and do not have a long-lasting effect on bad breath. If you must constantly use a breath freshener to hide unpleasant mouth odor, see your dentist. If you need extra help in controlling plaque, your dentist may recommend using a special antimicrobial mouth rinse. A fluoride mouth rinse, used along with brushing and flossing, can help prevent tooth decay.
Bad breath is a common problem that can affect anyone at any age. It affects most people at some point, and it's estimated about 1 in 4 people has bad breath on a regular basis.
The medical name for bad breath is halitosis.
What causes bad breath?
Bad breath can have a number of possible causes, but it's usually the result of poor oral hygiene. If bacteria build up in a person's mouth, it can cause their breath to smell.
Bacteria break down pieces of food in the mouth, releasing unpleasant smelling gas. Any food trapped in your teeth will be broken down by bacteria, causing bad breath.
Persistent bad breath can sometimes be a sign of gum disease.
Eating strongly flavoured foods, such as onions and garlic, can often cause your breath to smell, as well as smoking and drinking a lot of alcohol.
Bad breath can occasionally occur following an infection or illness, or as a result of taking certain types of medication.
Read more about the causes of bad breath.
Treating and preventing bad breath
Improving oral hygiene is usually enough to cure bad breath and prevent it recurring.
Your dentist can advise on how to improve your oral health and will recommend you:
- regularly brush your teeth and gums
- floss in between your teeth
- keep your tongue clean