Do you have bad breath?
Persistent bad breath, officially known as Halitosis, is a delicate topic that affects many people. Understanding what causes bad breath will go a long way towards preventing it.
Halitosis affects over 50% of the adult population and although it originates from a number of different sources, it is estimated that over 90% of cases originate from the mouth.
The most common cause of bad breath is poor oral hygiene that allows food to collect on the surfaces of the teeth, the tongue and the inside of the mouth. Food particles in the mouth which are not cleaned away are broken down by naturally occurring bacteria which release chemicals that have a strong smell.
Infections in the mouth such as tooth decay, gum disease or other mouth lesions may also contribute to bad breath. There are hundreds of types of bacteria that may be found in the mouth and many of them are capable of producing bad breath.
Saliva is a natural lubricant and buffer in the mouth. Patients who suffer from persistent dry mouth frequently experience halitosis as the bacteria are not washed away and will build up more quickly. A dry mouth may be the side effect of some medications, mouth breathing or smoking.
Halitosis may also be a by-product of certain health conditions. It may result from infections in the nose, throat or lungs; chronic sinusitis; postnasal drip; chronic bronchitis; or disturbances in your digestive system such as gastric reflux.
Foods such as garlic and onions may contain compounds which when digested, are absorbed into the body. These compounds may then be exhaled or secreted in the saliva.
The management of halitosis may include simple measures such as cleaning and scaling of teeth, deeper cleaning below the gum line, instructions for oral hygiene, tongue cleaning, and mouth rinsing.
If your problem stems from a dry mouth, consider chewing sugar-free gum or use an artificial saliva substitute to help stimulate salivary flow. Above all, talk with your dentist about your concerns. If your breath problems stem from an oral cause, your dentist can work with you to develop a treatment plan that minimizes odour.
Your dentist will take a history, including a list of medications and supplements you are taking. This may be helpful in determining whether the cause of your bad breath is localized to the mouth or whether it may be a systemic condition. Medical conditions such as diabetes and liver disease may also cause halitosis. If a systemic disease is suspected, your GP should be consulted.
The Australian Dental Association recommends that you brush and floss your teeth twice a day with fluoride-containing toothpaste. Brushing your tongue will also help to remove bacteria that contribute to bad breath. If you wear removable dentures, take them out at night and brush them thoroughly with a denture cleanser before replacing them the next morning.
B.D.S(Hons).(Syd). MDSc (Melb, Grad.Dip.Clin.Dent (Oral Implants), Grad.Dip.Clin.Dent (Conscious Sedation & Pain Control), FRACDS, FPFA, Senior Clinical Associate (Uni of Syd), Dental Surgeon.