Continuing our Dental Health 101 series , this week we discuss Bad Breath, its causes and what you and your dentist may be able to do about it.
Bad breath, also called halitosis, can result from poor dental health habits and may be a sign of other health problems. Bad breath can also be made worse by the types of foods you eat and other unhealthy lifestyle habits.
How Does What I Eat Give Me Bad Breath?
The foods we eat begin to be broken down in your mouth through chewing and enzymes in your saliva. As the food is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, it is eventually carried to your lungs and exhaled when you breathe. Eating foods with strong odors like garlic or onions can increase the strength of the odors and brushing, flossing and mouthwash will merely cover up the odor temporarily. The effects of the food will not go away completely until it has entirely passed through your body.
What Health Problems Might Give Me Bad Breath
Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth may be warning signs of gum disease. Gum disease is caused by the buildup of plaque on teeth. The bacteria that causes this plaque produces toxins in the mouth, which can irritate the gums. If gum disease continues untreated, it can damage the gums and jawbone.
Other dental causes of bad breath include poorly fitting dental appliances, yeast infections of the mouth, and dental caries or cavities (What are Cavities?).
The medical condition dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, can cause bad breath. Saliva is necessary to moisten and cleanse the mouth by neutralizing acids produced by plaque and washing away dead cells that accumulate on the tongue, gums, and cheeks. If these dead cells are not removed, they can decompose and can cause bad breath. Dry mouth may be caused by the side effects of various medications, salivary gland problems, or continuous breathing through the mouth.
Many other diseases and illnesses may cause bad breath including pneumonia, bronchitis, chronic sinus infections, postnasal drip, diabetes, chronic acid reflux, and liver or kidney problems.
What Can I Do To Prevent Bad Breath
Practice good oral hygiene.
Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove food debris and plaque (Proper Brushing Techniques). Brush your teeth and tongue after each meal or snack. Replace your toothbrush every two to three months (Toothbrush Tips). Use dental floss to remove food particles and plaque between teeth once a day. Dentures or removable dental appliances should be removed at night and cleaned thoroughly before being placed in your mouth the next morning.
See your dentist regularly – at least twice a year.
Dr. Murphey or Dr. nalley will conduct an oral exam and give your teeth a professional cleaning and will be able detect and treat periodontal disease, dry mouth, or other problems that may be the cause of bad mouth odor.
Stop smoking/chewing tobacco-based products.
Here is a great list of resources to help you quit smoking and using tobacco. (Quit smoking resources)
Drink lots of water.
Drinking plenty of water will keep your mouth moist and chewing on sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless candy will stimulate the production of saliva, which helps wash away food particles and bacteria.
Keep a log of the foods you eat.
If you think the food your are eating is the main culprit behind your bad breath, bring a food diary to your dentist to review. Similarly, make a list of the medications you take as some drugs may play a role in creating mouth odors.
How Can I Treat Bad Breath Once I Have It?
Mouth rinses and toothpastes.
If your bad breath is due to a buildup of bacteria (plaque) on your teeth, Dr. Murphey may recommend a mouth rinse that kills the bacteria. Mouth rinses containing cetylpyridinium chloride and those with chlorhexidine can prevent production of odors that cause bad breath. Dr. Murphey may also recommend a toothpaste that contains an antibacterial agent to kill the bacteria that cause plaque buildup.
Treatment of dental disease.
If it is determined that you have gum disease, you may be referred to a gum specialist (periodontist). Gum disease can cause the gums to pull away from the teeth, leaving deep pockets that accumulate odor-causing bacteria. Sometimes these bacteria can be removed only by professional cleaning. Your dentist might also recommend replacing faulty tooth restorations, which can be a breeding ground for bacteria.