Definition

Bad breath (sometimes called Halitosis or oral malodour) is an unpleasant or offensive odour emanating from breath. In 9 out of 10 cases bad breath originates in the mouth itself. The most likely cause is the accumulation of food debris with subsequent metabolism of food debris by bacterial plaque on teeth and tongue. Extra-oral causes may include respiratory diseases (such as sinusitis and tonsillitis), systemic diseases (such as diabetes mellitus, hepatic and renal failure), malignancy and use of pharmacologic agents.

Signs & Symptoms

Bad breath odors vary, depending on the source or the underlying cause. Some people worry too much about their breath, even though they have little or no mouth odor, while others have bad breath and don't know it. The underlying symptoms can be poor oral hygiene caused by the dental plaque, food debris and development of gingivitis. Because it's difficult to assess how your own breath smells, ask a relative, and consider seeing a dental professional to confirm if bad breath is an issue for you and to ask how to treat it.

Cause

Most bad breath starts in your mouth, and there are many possible causes that include: certain foods you eat (garlic and onions, in particular), alcohol or cigarettes, poor oral hygiene, gum disease, diabetes, dry mouth, sinus or throat infections, lung infections, kidney/liver failure and gastrointestinal issues.

Diagnosis

Determining the cause of bad breath can be tricky without the help of a healthcare professional, because there are so many possibilities of what may be causing it. So make an appointment with your dentist, who can give you a diagnosis and provide treatment options. In some cases your dentist will refer you to your family physician or another medical professional, if necessary.

Prevention

In general, the best way to prevent bad breath is to brush and floss every day. But there are also other techniques to freshen your breath, which your dentist or doctor can discuss with you.

Treatment

Always make sure you’re practicing great oral care habits. Brushing twice a day and flossing daily will help to control plaque development and use of a tongue scraper will help control odor causing bacteria that form on the tongue. Use of floss is important to keep the spaces in between your teeth clean. Regular dental visits twice a year for a check-up and professional cleaning are also excellent steps.

Related Conditions

Although bad breath may be nothing serious, if simple self-care techniques don’t solve the problem, you should consult with your dentist or physician.

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