What to Know About Bad Breath

Bad breath, which is also known as halitosis, can be embarrassing. Imagine being anxious, talking to people because of your breath. Worse, you may not even know it while you see people keeping a safe distance from you. It’s no wonder why store shelves are filled with mints, gum, mouthwashes, and other products designed to combat bad breath. But most of these products are only meant to temporarily fix the problem because it doesn’t address the cause of it.

Signs and symptoms of bad breath

The most obvious sign of bad breath is noticing an unpleasant smell coming from the mouth. Other people notice someone has halitosis before the person does, while some notice it themselves. Another person may tell him or her about the bad breath, while some may give a larger than normal personal space. Since it’s difficult to assess how your own breath smells, you can ask a family member or a close friend to confirm your bad breath-related questions.

Other symptoms of bad breath include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Unpleasant or sour taste
  • Changes in taste
  • A coating on the tongue

Causes of bad breath

Bad breath odors vary, and it depends on the underlying cause. Most bad breath really starts on problems in the mouth, but there are also other causes. These include:

1. Food

Food is the main source of bad odors that come from the mouth. The breakdown of food particles in and around the teeth and mouth can cause bacteria to increase and create a foul odor. Some foods such as onions, garlic, spicy foods, exotic spices, some cheeses, fish, and acidic beverages like coffee can leave a lingering smell. Most of the time, the odor is short-lived. Other foods that may get stuck in the teeth can promote the growth of bacteria and dental plaque, which causes bad breath odor.

Some food causes bad breath after digestion. Once they enter the bloodstream, they are carried to your lungs and affect the breath.

Low carbohydrate diets can also cause ketone breath. This diet can cause the body to burn fat as its energy source, and the end product is ketones, which cause a fruity acetone-like odor on the breath.

2. Poor oral hygiene

Obviously, if you don’t brush and floss daily, the food particles can remain in your mouth, promoting bacterial growth between the teeth, gums, and tongue. This can cause bad breath. Poor dental care can lead to plaque buildup in the mouth, and it causes odor on its own. When plaque buildup hardens, it forms tartar, which holds bacteria that can irritate the gums and lead to gum disease. Mild gum disease is called gingivitis, and if it’s not treated, it can cause periodontitis.

3. Mouth infections

Cavities, impacted teeth, and tooth decay can cause bad breath. Surgical wounds after oral surgery, tooth removal, if not treated, can also cause bad breath if untreated.

4. Dentures or braces

Food particles that are not properly removed from braces or dentures can rot or cause bacteria and odor. Dentures that are loose-fitting can cause sores or infections in the mouth, which causes bad breath.

5. Tobacco products

Smoking and chewing tobacco can leave chemicals that remain in the mouth, which can cause bad breath. Smokers and oral tobacco users are also more likely to develop gum disease or oral cancers, which can cause bad breath.

6. Dry mouth

Saliva helps cleanse your mouth, removing particles that cause bad odors. Once you experience a condition called dry mouth or xerostomia, it can contribute to bad breath because of the decrease in the production of saliva. It naturally occurs during sleep, but 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.

7. Pregnancy

Being pregnant in itself doesn’t cause bad breath – nausea and morning sickness associated with it does. In addition, hormonal changes, dehydration, and eating different foods because of cravings can lead to bad breath during pregnancy.

8. Health problems

Sometimes, bad breath can be rooted from small stones that form in the tonsils and are covered with bacteria, which can produce odor. Chronic inflammation in the nose, throat, and sinuses, as well as the common cold, influenza, post-nasal drip, bronchitis, thrush, can cause bad breath. Other diseases like diabetes, acid reflux, lactose intolerance, and some liver and kidney diseases may have bad breath as one of their symptoms.

9. Allergies

Sinus congestion due to allergies makes people breathe from the mouth, which can cause dryness in the mouth. Also, the post-nasal drip is a common allergy symptom that can result in bad breath. In addition to that, some medications used to treat allergies can cause a dry mouth that contributes to bad breath.

10. Medications

As mentioned above, medications used to treat allergies like antihistamines can cause dry mouth that can lead to bad breath. Medications for diuretics, high blood pressure, and sedatives can also dry the mouth, which leads to bad breath. Other medications can be broken down by the body to release chemicals that can affect the breath.

11. Other causes

Bad breath can also be caused by diseases (like some cancers) and metabolic disorders, as a result of the chemicals it produces. Alcoholism and large doses of vitamin supplements can also cause bad breath. In young children, bad breath can be caused by objects stuck on the nose.

When to see a doctor

If you have bad breath, improving your oral hygiene habits is a good place to start. Try brushing your teeth more often, and make sure you also brush your tongue, gums, the roof of the mouth, and insides of the cheeks. Use mouthwash regularly. Use dental floss once a day and drink plenty of water. If you have cavities and tooth decay, check with your dentist and have it fixed.

If bad breath still persists after making all those changes, consult with your dentist. If the mouth is healthy and the odor is not of oral origin, your dentist may refer you to your physician or a specialist to find out the root cause of bad breath.

If you have braces, it’s likely that your bad breath is caused by food stuck in them. See your orthodontist and have it cleaned. If you have periodontal disease, see your periodontist.

If your bad breath is accompanied by sores in the mouth, white spots on the tonsils, pain or difficulty with chewing or swallowing, and fever and fatigue – see a dentist immediately. Update them if you take a new medication. They will know what to do.

As mentioned earlier, there are other illnesses that can cause bad breath. Here are some of the conditions you have to be aware of: chronic sinus infection, allergies, post-nasal drip, diabetes, chronic acid reflux, pneumonia or bronchitis, and liver or kidney disease.

Treatment for bad breath

To treat bad breath, help avoid cavities and lower your risk of gum disease by taking care of your mouth and teeth. Further treatment for halitosis can vary, depending on its cause.

For causes that are related to oral health, here are some of the measures you can undertake:

  • Keeping good oral hygiene

First of all, you have to brush your teeth a minimum of twice a day, preferably morning and evening. You can brush your teeth after lunch as well. When you brush, make sure you are using the right technique, and make sure you are covering all areas of the mouth, such as all the sides of the teeth, the tongue, roof of the mouth, gums, and insides of the cheeks. Floss once a day.

If bad breath is caused by a plaque buildup, use a mouthwash that kills bacteria. Your dentist can recommend a toothpaste that contains antibacterial agents to eliminate bacteria that causes bad breath. 

  • Having any dental disease treated

If you have broken teeth or toothache caused by damage from cavities, the bacteria caught in the teeth can cause the foul odor. Have it treated by the dentist right away. If you have gum disease, you may be referred to a periodontist to have your condition properly treated. Gum disease can cause gums to pull away from teeth, which leaves deep pockets that fill with odor-causing bacteria.

Prevention of bad breath

Bad breath can be prevented first and foremost by practicing proper oral hygiene. Keeping a clean and healthy mouth can keep cavities, plaque, tartar, and gum disease away – which are all causes of halitosis. Brush your teeth at least twice a day, but best if thrice. Brush your tongue too, because it harbors bacteria. Make sure you replace your toothbrush every two to three months. If you have dentures, remove it during the night before you sleep, and clean it thoroughly before putting it back inside your mouth the next morning.

Besides keeping your mouth clean, here are some of the best practices you can do to prevent having bad breath:

1. Stop smoking. If you are not smoking, then don’t even try. But if you are, ask your dentist for tips on how to kick the bad habit.

2. See your dentist regularly. Dental checkups must be done at least twice a year. Your dentist shall conduct an oral exam and professional teeth cleaning to treat and prevent dental problems. Your dentist can also detect and treat dry mouth, periodontal disease, or other problems that can cause bad mouth odor.

3. Drink lots of water. Drinking enough water can keep your mouth moist. Don’t allow yourself to get thirsty and always have a bottle of water with you. You can also chew gum (preferably sugarless) to stimulate the production of saliva. Gums and mints that contain xylitol are your best choice when dealing with and preventing bad breath.

4. Adjust your diet. If your food choices are what causes your bad breath, try to limit the culprit. Onion and garlic can leave a foul taste on the mouth. Also, eating a lot of sugary foods can also cause bad breath.