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Oral Health Buzz

What Causes Bad Breath?

Dianne L. Sefo, RDH, BA

Bad breath can be an embarrassing issue for some individuals and may even lead to awkwardness in social settings. Knowing what causes bad breath is important because the problem could be a sign of a more serious dental or medical issue. Fortunately, there are a number of steps that you can take to treat bad breath and make your mouth clean and healthy.

What Causes Bad Breath?

Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is an unpleasant odor that is usually detected when a person exhales. There are many causes, but most bad breath starts in the mouth. The American Dental Association (ADA) notes the most common causes of bad breath:

  • Certain foods: Remnants of food that remain in your mouth following a meal can cause bad odor due to bacteria growth. Pungent foods, such as garlic, onions and some spices, affect your breath as they are digested and travel through your body.
  • Tobacco: Smoking cigarettes and cigars and using other tobacco products leaves a distinct, foul odor. In addition, consuming tobacco products increases your risk of oral and other cancers.
  • Poor oral hygiene and gum disease: When you skip brushing your teeth, flossing and cleaning your tongue, you allow food particles to remain in your mouth. The bacterial breakdown of these remnants of food can cause odor. In addition, growth of bacteria increases your risk of gum disease. If you use any dental appliances, such as retainers or dentures, clean them regularly. Don't forget to change your toothbrush every 3 months or as recommended by your dentist.
  • Dry mouth: Saliva helps clean your mouth by clearing away food particles. If there is not enough saliva production, food particles that may cause bad odor are left in your mouth. The side effects of some medications, including dry mouth, may indirectly cause bad breath.
  • Medical conditions: Respiratory infections and inflammation of the sinuses, lungs or throat can lead to bad breath, especially when there is draining of mucus within the mouth and nose area. Other medical conditions that may cause bad breath include diabetes, some liver diseases and kidney disease.

How You Can Fight Bad Breath

Perhaps the most important home care remedy is to brush, floss and clean your tongue regularly. Brushing your teeth twice per day, cleaning your tongue and flossing at least once per day remove food particles from your mouth. Cleaning your tongue after brushing reduces the bacteria that resides on the back of your tongue. The Colgate® 360°® toothbrush, which is clinically proven to fight bad breath, has a convenient tongue cleaner already on the brush.

Your dentist can prescribe or recommend special toothpaste and mouthwash to prevent the production of bad odors. Colgate® 2 in 1 Toothpaste and Mouthwash and Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield Mouthwash are excellent choices for total mouth care and preventing bad breath. The ADA warns that over-the-counter mouthwash is only a temporary solution because it does not treat the underlying cause of bad breath. Seeing your dentist and dental hygienist regularly for cleanings and checkups is essential to good oral health. In addition, regular visits can help you determine the underlying cause of bad breath.

When to See a Medical Professional

If your dentist has eliminated dental issues as a potential cause of bad breath and determined that your mouth is healthy, you should see a medical professional. Only a medical professional can determine whether you have a medical condition.

Although bad breath can be an embarrassing issue, it does not have to be a social liability. Talk to your dentist if you have any concerns about bad breath. Following the above recommendations can help you feel more confident about your breath, even if bad breath is not a problem for you.

About the Author: Dianne L. Sefo is a dental hygienist and a dental hygiene educator. She has been involved in multiple publications, worked in private practices in New York and Southern California and has been a faculty member at Monroe Community College, Concorde Careers College-San Diego and New York University.

Learn more about bad breath in the Colgate Oral Care resources.

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