Bad breath, which is also called halitosis, is an embarrassing health condition that affects approximately 30% of people around the world. It is associated with a foul oral odor. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, in over 90% of bad breath cases, the odor originates in the mouth, throat, and tonsils.
The bad breath odor is usually caused by a group of anaerobic, sulfur-producing bacteria that breed beneath the surface of the tongue and often in the throat and tonsil area.
These bacteria occur naturally in your oral environment and are supposed to be there because they assist your digestion by breaking down proteins into amino acids.
Proteins are commonly found in food, mucus or phlegm, blood and in diseased oral tissue.
As the bad breath bacteria feast on proteins in your mouth, sulfur compounds are released from the back of your tongue and throat.
The bacteria excrete waste as hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan and other odorous and bad tasting compounds known as volatile sulfur compounds.
As long as this process of anaerobic bacteria feeding on proteins and excreting volatile sulfur compounds continues unchecked, your breath will become worse and worse.
What are the causes of bad breath?
There are many causes for bad breath; some common causes are listed below.
Food: Food is a primary source of bad odors that come from the mouth. Some foods, such as garlic, onions, and spicy foods, exotic spices (such as curry), some cheeses, fish, and acidic beverages such as coffee can leave a lingering smell. Most of the time this is short term. Other foods may get stuck in the teeth, promoting the growth of bacteria, which causes bad breath odor. Low carbohydrate diets may also cause “ketone breath.” These diets cause the body to burn fat as its energy source. The end-product of making this energy is ketones, which cause a fruity acetone-like odor on the breath when exhaled.
Tobacco products: Smoking and chewing tobacco can leave chemicals that remain in the mouth. Smoking can also precipitate other bad-breath causes such as gum disease or oral cancers.
Poor dental hygiene: When a person does not brush or floss regularly, food particles remaining in the mouth can rot and cause bad odors. Poor dental care can lead to a buildup of plaque in the mouth, which causes an odor of its own.
Plaque buildup can also lead to periodontal (gum) disease. The mild form of gum disease is called gingivitis; if gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to periodontitis.
Health problems: Sinus infections, pneumonia, sore throat (pharyngitis) and other throat infections, thrush, bronchitis, postnasal drip, diabetes, acid reflux, lactose intolerance, other stomach problems, and some liver or kidney diseases may be associated with bad breath.
Dry mouth: Also called xerostomia, dry mouth can also cause bad breath. Saliva helps moisten and cleanse the mouth, and when the body does not product enough saliva, bad breath may result.
Dry mouth may be caused by salivary gland problems, connective tissue disorders (Sjögren’s syndrome), medications, or breathing through the mouth.
Mouth infections: Cavities, gum disease, or impacted teeth may cause bad breath.
Dentures or braces: Food particles not properly cleaned from appliances can rot or cause bacteria and odor.
Loose-fitting dentures may cause sores or infections in the mouth, which can cause bad breath.
Medications: Many medications, including antihistamines and diuretics, can cause dry mouth (see above), which can cause bad breath.
Other medications that may lead to bad breath may include insulin shots, triamterene (Dyrenium), and paraldehyde.
“Morning breath”: Bad breath in the morning is very common. Saliva production nearly stops during sleep, which allows bacteria to grow, causing bad breath.
Other causes of bad breath: Objects stuck in the nose (usually in children), alcoholism, and large doses of vitamin supplements may also cause bad breath.
Symptoms of Bad Breath
woman with bad breathBad breath is a medical condition that lowers self-esteem and affects everyday life and personal relationships.
People with chronic or recurring bad breath often lose their self-confidence. However, it can be difficult to know if you have bad breath. Family members and colleagues may not tell you.
The most common symptoms of bad breath include post-nasal drip, a bitter metallic taste, a white coating on the tongue and thick saliva.
Most symptoms of bad breath depend on the underlying cause of bad breath. Many individuals who suffer from bad breath because of dry mouth can experience difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, a burning sensation in the mouth or dry eyes.
Fever, sore throat, persistent cough and swollen lymph nodes in the neck indicate respiratory tract infections which can also mean bad breath.
One of the best ways to find out if you have bad breath is to lick the inside of your wrist, wait five seconds and then take a whiff.
How is bad breath treated? What can be done to prevent bad breath?
Treatment of bad breath depends on the cause.
- Brush and floss teeth regularly. Remember to brush the tongue, too. This can help with bad breath caused by foods a person has eaten.
- See a dentist regularly to ensure dentures or braces are properly fitted and cleaned.
- Quit smoking or using chewing tobacco.
- Keep the mouth moist by drinking water and chewing sugarless gum or sugar-free hard candy to stimulate the production of saliva. Mouthwash may temporarily mask bad breath odors, but it may not treat the underlying cause.
Natural remedies to treat bad breath include chewing on mint or parsley.
If bad breath is due to a health problem such as a sinus infection, diabetes, acid reflux, etc., then the underlying medical issue needs to be treated.
If bad breath is a side effect of taking a medication, discuss with a doctor whether there are other options for medication that can be taken. Never stop taking a medication without first consulting a doctor.
For patients who suffer from dry mouth (xerostomia), artificial saliva may be prescribed by a dentist.
Bad Breath Treatment
Bad Breath TreatmentIn most cases bad breath can be successfully treated. Bad breath treatment depends on its cause.
Please keep in mind that you cannot eliminate the bacteria that cause bad breath from the tongue.
Consequently, scraping or brushing the tongue is a temporary solution at best, and is typically frustrating for those who believe tongue scraping or tongue brushing is a permanent solution to bad breath.
The bacteria that cause bad breath are actually part of your normal oral flora and need to be present in order to break down proteins as a key step in proper digestion.
A much simpler and clinically-proven method to treat bad breath is to interrupt the bacteria’s chemical production of odors by the introduction of oxygenating compounds to your oral environment.
Oxygen is lethal to the bacteria that cause bad breath because they are anaerobes and cannot survive or function in the presence of oxygen.
In general, a dentist will recommend mouthwashes and toothpastes that contain oxidizing agents such as chlorine dioxide or sodium chlorite to neutralize volatile sulfur compounds and help control odor causing bacteria found in the mouth.
If you are experiencing dryness in the mouth, your dentist will recommend a saliva substitute to moisten the mouth throughout the day.
Some effective, natural ingredients to look for in oral care products are zinc gluconate, aloe vera, green tea, tea tree oil, xylitol, CoQ10, glycyrrhizic acid and oral probiotics like K12 and M18.
6 Bad Breath Home Remedies
The practice of a few, simple, self-care techniques can help to minimize bad breath. There are several things you can at home to treat bad breath.
- Advance oral care products – Use oral care products such as mouthwashes and toothpastes that have been shown to be effective in fighting bad breath.
- Proper oral care – Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day. This helps to remove any food and plaque which can be used as a fuel source by the anaerobic, sulfur-producing bacteria that cause bad breath.
- Stimulate your salivary flow – Prevent dry mouth with chewing gum, lozenges, or mints that are sugar free. Look for Xylitol as a sweetener. In recent years, Xylitol has been shown to have anti-cavity properties and is a non-sucrose sweetener.
- Eat fibrous fruits and vegetables- One of the best ways to remove bacteria in the mouth is to eat an apple a day. It helps moisten the mouth, too.
- Take a dietary supplement- Take Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin B. These vitamins are effective at helping your body eliminate excess mucus and toxins naturally.
- Brush your teeth occasionally with baking soda – Thebacteria that cause bad breath thrive in an acidic oral environment. Brushing your teeth with baking soda helps neutralize excess acids found in the oral cavity.
When should someone see a doctor about bad breath?
Most of the time, bad breath can be cured with proper oral hygiene. It is rarely life-threatening, and the prognosis is good. However, bad breath may be a symptom of a medical disorder.
If proper oral hygiene does not eliminate bad breath, see a dentist or doctor for a diagnosis if bad breath is accompanied by
- persistent dry mouth,
- sores in the mouth,
- pain or difficulty with chewing or swallowing,
- broken teeth or dental pain,
- white spots on the tonsils,
Also see a doctor or dentist if bad breath develops after taking a new medication, after recent dental surgery, or any other symptoms develop that are of concern.
Bad breath in babies or young children may be a sign of infection or undiagnosed medical problems. Consult a child’s pediatrician or dentist if an infant or young child has bad breath.