Bad breath, (also known as halitosis) can result from poor dental health habits and may be a sign of other health problems. Bad breath can also be made worse by the types of foods you eat and other unhealthy lifestyle habits.
The food you eat begins to be broken down in your mouth and affects your breath, especially food with strong odours, such as garlic or onions.
If you don’t clean your teeth and tongue regularly, food particles remain in your mouth promoting bacterial growth in the mouth. This causes bad breath. Smoking or chewing tobacco-based products can also cause bad breath, stain teeth, reduce your sense of taste and irritate the gums.
Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth may be a sign of gum disease caused by the build-up of plaque on teeth. The bacteria cause toxins to form in the mouth, which irritate the gums. If gum disease continues untreated, it can damage the gums and jawbone.
Other dental causes of bad breath include poorly fitting dental appliances, yeast infections of the mouth and dental caries.
The medical condition dry mouth (also called xerostomia) can also cause bad breath. Saliva is necessary to moisten and cleanse the mouth by neutralising acids produced by plaque and washing away dead cells that accumulate on the tongue, gums, and cheeks. If not removed, these cells decompose and can cause bad breath. Dry mouth may be caused by the side effects of various medications, salivary gland problems or continuous breathing through the mouth.
Many other diseases and illnesses may cause bad breath. Here are some to be aware of: respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis, chronic sinus infections, postnasal drip, diabetes, chronic acid reflux, and liver or kidney problems.
Bad breath can be reduced or prevented if you:
Practice good oral hygiene. Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss to remove food debris and plaque. Brush your teeth after you eat (keep a toothbrush at work or school to brush after lunch). Don’t forget to brush your tongue, too. Replace your toothbrush every two to three months. Use floss or an interdental cleaner to remove food particles and plaque between your teeth once a day. Dentures should be removed at night and cleaned thoroughly before being placed in your mouth the next morning.
See your dentist regularly, as advised. He or she will conduct an oral examination and professional teeth cleaning and will be able to detect and treat periodontal disease, dry mouth or other problems that may be the cause of bad mouth odour.
Stop smoking/chewing tobacco-based products. Ask your dentist or doctor for tips on kicking the habit.
Drink lots of water. This will keep your mouth moist. Chewing gum (preferably sugarless) or sucking on sweets (preferably sugarless) also stimulates the production of saliva, which helps wash away food particles and bacteria.
Keep a diary of the foods you eat. If you think the foods that you eat may be causing your bad breath, record what you eat. Bring the diary to your dentist to review. Similarly, make a list of the medications you take. Some medications may play a role in creating mouth odours.
In most cases, your dentist can treat the cause of bad breath. If your dentist determines that your mouth is healthy and that the odour is not of oral origin, you may be referred to your GP or to a specialist to determine the odour source and treatment plan. If the odour is due to gum disease, for example, your dentist can either treat the disease or refer you to a periodontist, a dentist who specialises in treating gum conditions.
You can buy a number of mouthwashes over-the-counter that claim to eliminate bad breath. However many of these mouthwashes generally provide only a temporary way to mask unpleasant mouth odour. There are, however, several antiseptic mouth-rinse products available that instead of simply masking breath odour kill the germs that cause bad breath. Ask your dentist about which product is best for you.