Bad breath, also medically termed as halitosis, can be embarrassing and in some cases may even cause anxiety. 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. Because it’s difficult to assess how your own breath smells, ask a close friend or relative to confirm your bad-breath questions. In some cases, an individual’s breath odor can actually be pleasant as experienced in some chronically starved people.
Most bad breath starts in your mouth, and there are many possible causes. They include:
- The breakdown of retained food particles in and around your teeth can increase bacteria and cause a foul odor. Eating certain foods, such as onions, garlic and spices also can cause bad breath. After you digest these foods, they enter your bloodstream, are carried to your lungs and affect your breath.
- Tobacco products. Smoking causes its own unpleasant mouth odor. Smokers and oral tobacco users are also more likely to have gum disease, another source of bad breath.
- Poor dental hygiene. If you don’t brush and floss daily, food particles remain in your mouth, causing bad breath. Your tongue also can trap bacteria that produce odors. Instruments placed to support the teeth that aren’t cleaned regularly or don’t fit properly can harbor odor-causing bacteria and food particles.
- Dry mouth. Saliva helps cleanse your mouth, removing particles that cause bad odors. A dry mouth or (xerostomia) can contribute to bad breath because production of saliva is decreased. Dry mouth naturally occurs during sleep, leading to “morning breath,” and it worsens if you sleep with your mouth open. Chronic dry mouth can be caused by a problem with your salivary glands and some diseases.
- Some medications can indirectly produce bad breath by contributing to dry mouth for example Clonidine and Atropine. Others can be broken down in the body to release chemicals that can be carried on your breath.
- Infections in the mouth. Bad breath can be caused by surgical wounds after oral surgery, such as tooth removal, or as a result of tooth decay, gum disease or mouth sores.
- Other medical conditions such liver disease, causing a distinct breath odor called “Fetor hepaticus”
To reduce or prevent bad breath:
- Brush your teeth after you eat. Keep a toothbrush at work to use after eating. Brush using a fluoride-containing toothpaste at least twice a day, especially after meals. Toothpaste with antibacterial properties has been shown to reduce bad breath odors. Do not forget to brush the tongue too
- Floss at least once a day. Proper flossing removes food particles and plaque from between your teeth, helping to control bad breath.
- Clean dentures or dental appliances. If you wear a bridge or a denture, clean it thoroughly at least once a day or as directed by your dentist. If you have a dental retainer or mouth guard, clean it each time before you put it in your mouth. Your dentist can recommend the best cleaning product.
- Avoid dry mouth by drinking plenty of water — not coffee, soft drinks or alcohol, which can lead to a drier mouth. Chew gum or suck on candy (preferably sugarless) to stimulate saliva. For chronic dry mouth, your dentist or physician may prescribe an artificial saliva preparation or an oral medication that stimulates the flow of saliva.
- Adjust your diet. Avoid or reduce intake of foods such as onions and garlic that can cause bad breath. Eating a lot of sugary foods is also linked with bad breath.
- Schedule regular dental checkups. See your dentist on a regular basis — generally twice a year to have your teeth or dentures examined and cleaned.