Bad breath happens. If you’ve ever gotten that not-so-fresh feeling on a date, at a job interview or just talking with friends, you’re not alone. Studies show that 50 percent of adults have had bad breath, or halitosis, at some point in their lives. Is there anything we can do to keep breath odor at bay? Knowing what causes bad breath can help you reduce the risk.
Bad Breath Triggers
Halitosis, or bad breath, most often starts in the mouth. Poor oral hygiene allows food particles to collect on the surface of the tongue, between the teeth or along the gum tissue that surrounds the teeth. Naturally occurring bacteria in your mouth then break down those food particles, releasing chemicals that have a strong odor.
Saliva helps wash food particles from your mouth; thus, people with a dry mouth are at an increased risk of experiencing bad breath. Some medications, mouth breathing and smoking all can contribute to dry mouth.
Infections in the mouth, such as dental caries (tooth decay), periodontal (gum) disease or mouth sores related to other conditions may contribute to bad breath. Surgical wounds (from extracted teeth, for example) also can be a source of halitosis.
The bacterial film called “plaque” that occurs naturally in your mouth can build up if not removed regularly through good oral hygiene practices. The bacteria in plaque give off an odor that affects your breath.
Diet is a common bad breath culprit. Foods such as garlic and onions, in particular, can foul your breath. Once your food is digested, chemicals that cause odor can be absorbed into your bloodstream and from there into your lungs; these chemicals then are exhaled. Diets high in protein and sugar also have been associated with bad breath.
Bad breath can be a byproduct of certain health conditions. It may result from infections in the nose, throat or lungs; chronic sinusitis; postnasal drip; chronic bronchitis; or distur- bances in your digestive system.
Fending Off Bad Breath
The best weapon you have against bad breath is good oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing remove food particles and limit plaque buildup thereby, reducing the risk of cavities and periodontal disease.
The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste and floss between your teeth once a day. Brushing your tongue is very important to remove bacteria that cause bad breath (especially in the back, where most of these bacteria are found).
If you wear removable dentures, take them out at night (instead of sleeping with them in mouth) and brush them thoroughly with a denture cleanser before wearing them in the morning.
Your problem arises from dry mouth, consider chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candies to help stimulate salivary flow. There also are artificial salivas that may help.
It’s important to discuss all your concerns with your dentist. A complete history of medical conditions and medications you are taking may help your dentist to determine whether the cause of your bad breath is localized to the mouth or might be a systemic condition, in which case a physician should be consulted. If your breath problems stem from an oral cause, your dentist can work with you to develop a treatment plan that