Halitosis, commonly called bad breath, is a condition that can be both unpleasant and embarrassing. Sometimes, you may not even realize you have it. But everyone gets it, most frequently for many people in the morning.
There are a number of reasons you may have bad breath. In most healthy people, however, the most common reason is microbes on the tongue, especially at the back of the tongue where many people don’t clean. Studies have indicated that just brushing the tongue can reduce halitosis by up to 70 percent.
What can cause bad breath?
Bad breath can be caused by a number of conditions, including:
Sleep. You experience very little salvia flow during sleep so there’s little cleaning action in your mouth during the night, allowing bacteria to grow.
Foods. Garlic and onion are the most common foods containing odor-causing compounds that can get into the bloodstream, then go to the lungs and be exhaled.
Bad oral hygiene. Food particles that stay in the mouth after eating can cause the growth of odor-causing bacteria.
Gum disease. Bacteria and debris present under an inflamed gum line can cause bad breath.
Cavities, bridges and dentures. Dental work that doesn’t fit or is going bad can lead to mouth odor.
Dry mouth. Called zerostomia, this can be caused by breathing through the mouth, some medications or salivary gland issues.
Tobacco use. Using tobacco dries the mouth, and tobacco also has an odor of its own.
Dieting. Chemicals called ketones are released into the breath as body fat is burned.
Hunger or dehydration. Drinking and chewing increase the flow of saliva that helps wash bacteria away.
Illnesses or medical conditions. Everything from a sinus infection, bronchitis and pneumonia to diabetes and liver or kidney disease can contribute to bad breath.
To help you identify the cause of your bad breath, you may want to keep a record of what you have to eat and review your medications, illnesses and other details with your dentists.
Can I do anything to prevent bad breath?
The first and best defense is good oral hygiene. Brush and then floss twice per day, making sure to floss to remove food debris and plaque between teeth and below the gum line. Also, brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper. Change to a new toothbrush at least every three months. If you have removable bridges or dentures, clean them carefully.
You can also take the following actions to help prevent bad breath:
See a dentist. Having a checkup and cleaning twice per year can eliminate conditions that lead to bad breath and keep periodontal disease in check.
Stop using tobacco. Chewing tobacco or smoking is a habit you need to break, and the dentist can recommend ways to do that.
Drink more water. This simple act keeps your mouth moist while washing away bacteria too.
Use mouthwash. While many over-the-counter products offer only a temporary solution that masks bad breath, a dentist can provide antiseptic products that kill the germs that cause halitosis.
A dentist may also be able to offer other solutions for bad breath. When your mouth is healthy but you still have bad breath, your dentist may refer you to a doctor to see if the cause of your bad breath is a medical problem.