We’ve all been there — in the middle of a conversation, someone leans away and you think, “Oh no, is it my breath?” If this happens to you more often than not, you may want to consider what options you have to help solve your bad-breath condition.
Store and pharmacy shelves are practically overflowing with an array of gums, mints and mouthwashes that help to fight bad breath and promote a healthy mouth. And while these products work, they’re a temporary stop-gap in the fight against bad breath, which can be both embarrassing and may (in a small number of cases) cause anxiety.
The odors put forth will typically vary depending upon the source of the issue. While some people who have little to no mouth odor can worry about their breath too much, others worry too little because they don’t realize they have bad breath.
It may be tough to find someone willing to do so, but ask a close friend or relative to assess the status of your breath since it’s nearly impossible to do so on your own. If you have bad breath, reconsider your oral hygiene habits. Try making lifestyle changes, such as brushing your teeth and tongue after eating, using dental floss regularly, and drinking plenty of water.
What Is Bad Breath?
Bad breath, otherwise known as halitosis , is characterized as foul-smelling breath that may be caused by certain foods, health conditions or poor dental habits.
Symptoms of Halitosis
If you believe you are experiencing halitosis , or bad breath, look for these signs. If they apply to you, consult with your dentist or medical professional immediately to find out what kinds of solutions are available to you.
- Post-nasal drip or mucus in general
- A constant sour or bitter metallic taste
- Thick saliva that causes frequent throat-clearing
- A white coating on the tongue
- Persistent dry mouth
- Buildup around the teeth and gums
When Should You See a Doctor?
If your bad breath persists even with proper dental hygiene and regular checkups, contact your dentist to express your concerns. If your dentist suspects a more serious condition is causing your bad breath, they may refer you to a physician to find the cause of the odor.
Causes of Bad Breath
More often than not bad breath starts in your mouth, and there are many possible causes. One of the more common causes is leftover particles of food in and around your teeth. If left unbrushed or unflossed, these food particles can increase the amount of bacteria in your mouth and perpetuate bad breath.
There are also certain kinds of foods that can turn your breath sour: onions, garlic and some vegetables. Once consumed and digested, these foods enter your bloodstream, which eventually finds its way into your lungs where bad breath can originate. Daily brushing and daily flossing are essential to getting rid of any pesky food particles that may stick around your teeth or gums. The uneven surface of the tongue also can trap bacteria that produce odors. And, if dentures aren't cleaned regularly or don't fit properly, they can harbor odor-causing bacteria and food particles as well.
Are you a pipe or cigarette smoker? Regardless of how good your oral hygiene may be after smoking, the chemicals in tobacco wreak havoc on the mouth. Smokers or smokeless tobacco users are also more likely to have gum disease.
Dry mouth may be another cause of bad breath. Your own saliva acts as a natural cleanser by helping to remove food and drink particles that may cause bad odors. Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, may cause bad breath because it halts or lessens the production of saliva. Most people experience a mild form of dry mouth every morning with the infamous “morning breath,” which is made worse for those who sleep with their mouths open. Issues with your salivary glands and some diseases may also lead to chronic dry mouth.
Other Causes of Bad Breath
Many diseases and conditions, such as metabolic disorders, can cause a distinctive breath odor as a result of chemicals they produce. The medications used to treat these diseases and cancers can also be a source for producing bad breath.
Some infections can cause halitosis, especially those caused by surgical wounds after oral surgery (like tooth removal or a root canal). Bad breath can also be the result of tooth decay, gum disease or some mouth sores.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (or chronic acid reflux) can also be a factor in perpetual bad breath, so be sure to make a list of food you consume regularly that may cause acid reflux. Eliminating those foods from your diet will help significantly.
Preparing for Your Appointment
If you plan to have your dentist evaluate your breath, follow these short tips to help them pinpoint the real origin of your bad-breath problems:
- Morning appointments are usually best as it reduces the chances of the exam being hindered by food eaten throughout the day.
- Don’t smoke, consume any food or drink, or chew gum for at least three hours before your appointment.
- Avoid perfumes/colognes, scented lotions, lipsticks, glosses, or aftershave solutions. Wearing anything scented to your appointment can negatively affect the exam.
- Antibiotics could skew the results of your test; consult your dentist if you’ve taken any within the month leading up to the exam.
What to Expect From Your Dentist
Your dentist will likely start with an evaluation of your medical history by asking you a list of questions to help narrow down possibilities of what may be causing your current condition.
- When did the bad breath start?
- Is it ongoing or does it seem situational?
- Do you regularly clean your dentures or brush your teeth?
- Do you floss regularly?
- What kind of foods do you consume?
- Do you take any medications or supplements?
- Do you have any other health conditions?
- Do you breathe through your mouth or your nose?
- Do you snore?
- Do you experience sinus issues or have allergies?
- What is your suspected reasoning for the bad breath?
- Have friends, family members or coworkers complained about your bad breath?
Testing and Diagnosing
Your dentist will rate the odors emanating from both your mouth and your nose. They may also scrape the back of the tongue since that’s where the source of bad breath can often be found. While there are sophisticated detectors that can do a much more scientific job, they may not necessarily be available or financially viable.
Treatments and Drugs
Practicing good oral hygiene is the absolute best way to avoid cavities, lower your risk of contracting gum disease and reducing bad breath. Depending on the cause of your bad breath, treatments can vary, but if it’s believed your condition stems from another underlying health issue, you may be directed to see your physician for further examination.
If you don’t currently use mouthwashes, your dentist may instruct you to do so. If the breath originates from a buildup of plaque on your teeth, you may get prescribed a special rinse that will kill the bacteria. To prevent more odors from emerging, use a mouthwash that contains cetylpyridinium chloride or chlorhexidine for the best results. Your dentist may also recommend a special antibacterial toothpaste to rid your teeth and gums of the plaque buildup.
There may also be the need to treat any dental disease that may appear. With gum disease being one of the most common, you may be referred to a periodontist, or gum specialist. Gum disease can cause deep pockets that attract and keep odor-causing bacteria. Often, these bacteria need to be removed by a deep, professional dental cleaning. If your dentist finds that any past tooth restorations (crowns, caps, fillings) have become faulty, they may recommend replacing them to help eliminate another possible breeding ground for bad breath-causing bacteria.
Lifestyle and Home Remedies
Here are a few tips and tricks to help reduce or prevent bad breath :
Brush your teeth at least twice a day (yes, even at work), especially after meals. Toothpaste with antibacterial properties has been shown to reduce bad breath odors. Couple this with regular flossing, which removes food particles and plaque from between your teeth, and you should have better control of your breath.
If you don’t already, start brushing your tongue. It harbors bacteria that can lead to bad breath. Some people have a significant overgrowth of bacteria, leading to a coated tongue (from smoking or dry mouth).
If you wear a bridge or any form of dentures, clean them thoroughly at least once a day, if not twice (as directed by your dentist). Do you have a retainer or mouth guard that you use often? Clean it each time before you put it in your mouth and again once you pull it out. Use the cleaning product that your dentist suggests.
To keep your mouth properly salivated, avoid tobacco and drink plenty of water instead of soda, coffee or alcohol since these tend to dry out the mouth. You can also chew gum or enjoy sugarless candy to increase your saliva production, which can help clean your mouth during the day. If you have trouble producing saliva, your dentist or primary care physician can prescribe an artificial saliva solution or a medication taken orally to jump-start your salivary glands.
It’s essential that you replace your toothbrush on a regular basis . Change your toothbrush when it becomes frayed, about every three to four months, and choose a soft-bristled toothbrush to achieve a full and proper clean. A proper hygiene regimen in conjunction with regular dental checkups (generally twice a year) will help keep your mouth happy and healthy all year long.
For more information about how to get your breath tested or if you know you need to step up your oral hygiene habits, contact your dentist to make an appointment.