One of the most common questions our doctors get from our patients is regarding bad breath, or halitosis. There’s nothing like a bout of bad breath to kick your confidence in the teeth and keep you from feeling your best. In order to treat this embarrassing and unpleasant condition (or even better, prevent it), it’s important to know first about its causes.
Typically, halitosis is due to bacterial build up on your tongue. According to the American Dental Association, it can be caused by a number of things, including your diet, gum disease, dry mouth, bad habits and even particular medical conditions like sinus infections, diabetes, or liver and kidney disease.
Some of the Causes of Bad Breath May Surprise You
We all know that strong smelling foods like garlic and onions, for example, can leave a distinctive taste in your mouth that will also be exhaled in your breath. However, lots of foods (even those that may seem harmless at the time you eat them) can cause bad breath later. This happens when food particles remain in your mouth as a result of infrequent brushing and flossing, thus collecting bacteria and ultimately leading to halitosis.
Plaque can also be the cause of bad breath. Plaque build-up over time can lead to gum disease, and persistent bad breath can be a warning sign that you may have developed this condition. How do you prevent plaque? Always brush and floss at home, but also be sure to maintain your regular cleanings and semi-annual visits with your dentist, where they have the tools and training to really get into those hard to reach places.
Dry mouth, or a decreased flow of saliva, can be due to salivary gland problems, frequent breathing through your mouth instead of your nose, or (quite commonly) different medications. When we don’t salivate enough, it is more difficult to clear away those pesky food particles that like to attract bacteria. The good news is that there’s a way to help create more saliva in your mouth, either by sucking on sugarless hard candies, increasing fluids, or even with a prescription for artificial saliva. Our dentists would be happy to help you determine which option could be best for you.
Bad habits like smoking and other tobacco use is another contributing factor to halitosis. Not only does it deaden your taste buds and stain your teeth, tobacco also irritates your gums. In fact, the ADA reports that “tobacco users are more likely to suffer from gum disease and are at greater risk for developing oral cancer.” This fact probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise anymore. If you have ever smoked or used tobacco yourself, it is hard to deny that the risks far outweigh the benefits. We want you to be and feel healthy, so don’t be afraid to talk to us about stopping this habit for good!
Halitosis can also be attributed all the way to your tonsils! In fact, the #1 reason why adults have their tonsils removed is because of bacteria. Crypts or pockets that form on the tonsils trap food inside of them, which can remain there for days or even as long as weeks. As you can imagine, this can cause a horrible smell that emanates from the tonsils and comes out through your mouth (think of old food rotting in your refrigerator or trash can).
Don’t Worry, There’s an Easy Fix
It’s hard to hide these and other bad habits when it comes to your mouth, and even though quick fixes like mouthwash, breath mints and gum might mask the smell for a short while, they are only temporary bandages. Brushing and flossing are two often overlooked yet extremely important ways that you can help prevent bad breath on your own. Make sure you brush your tongue also, since that’s where those pesky bacteria often set up shop. Toothbrushes are a great tool for tongue brushing, or you can also use a tongue scraper if you prefer. We are more than happy to help you find the best oral hygiene regimen to keep your breath smelling fresh and clean!
Make sure to ask us at your next visit, and keep those maintenance visits on track. If you are a religious teeth and tongue brusher and flosser and still have a bad breath issue, you may have a more serious problem like one of those discussed above. If that’s the case, getting in for your next checkup is the best way to find a solution.