Q & A: Bad Breath

I’m suffering from bad breath and it’s affecting my marriage very badly, what can I do to help it?

Bad breath or halitosis is a common problem suffered by people of all ages, sexes, and social statuses.  Halitosis has become a major health concern among the general public because it causes social isolation and marital problems. It is often called the  ‘social life killer’.

Bad breath can result from poor dental health habits, but may also be a sign of other health problems. Bad breath can also be made worse by the types of foods that you eat and other unhealthy lifestyle habits.

How Does What You Eat Affect Breath?

All food begins to be broken down in the mouth. As foods are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, they are eventually carried to the lungs and given off in the breath. If you eat foods with strong odors (like garlic or onions), oral care will only cover up the odor temporarily. The odor will not go away completely until the foods have been eliminated from the body.

How Do Poor Habits Cause Bad Breath?

If you don’t brush and floss teeth daily, food particles can remain in your mouth, promoting bacterial growth between teeth, around the gums, and on the tongue. This causes bad breath.

Smoking can also can cause bad breath.

What Health Problems Are Associated With Bad Breath?

Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth may be a warning sign of gum (periodontal) disease. Gum disease is caused by the buildup of plaque on teeth. Bacteria cause the formation of toxins to form, which irritate the gums. If gum disease continues untreated, it can damage the gums and jawbone, and lead to tooth loss.

Other dental causes of bad breath include poorly fitting dental appliances, yeast infections of the mouth, and dental caries (cavities).

A dry mouth can also cause bad breath. Saliva washes away dead cells that accumulate on the tongue, gums, and cheeks. If not removed, these cells decompose and can cause bad breath. Dry mouth happens when you don’t drink enough water, and may be a side effect of some medications, salivary gland problems, or continuous breathing through the mouth.

Moving on, beyond the mouth, chronically inflamed tonsils can cause bad breath.

Crash dieting, fasting, and low-carbohydrate diets can also cause bad breath. These cause the body to break down fat, which produces chemicals called ketones that smell like acetone.

Also, respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis, chronic sinus infections, gastro-intestinal tract problems, like chronic cosntipation can be one major factor affecting your breath odor. Also, diabetes, liver or kidney problems can affect the smell of your breath.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Bad Breath?

Bad breath can be reduced or prevented with:

  1. Practice good oral hygiene. Brush teeth after every meal (keep a toothbrush at work or school). And don’t forget to brush the tongue as well. Replace your toothbrush every 3 months (say with the beginning of each season), or after an illness, especially cold sores. Use floss or an interdental brushes to remove food between the teeth before bedtime. Remove dentures at night and clean them thoroughly before placing them in the mouth the next morning.
  2. Vistit your dentist at least once a year, say on your birthday. He or she will conduct an oral exam and professional teeth cleaning and will be able to detect and treat periodontal disease, dry mouth, or other problems that may be the cause of bad mouth odor.
  3. Stop smoking and chewing tobacco-based products.  
  4. Drink lots of water, and chew sugarless xylitol gum to stimulate the production of saliva, which helps wash away food particles and bacteria.
  5. Keep a food and medication journal. Eliminate what might be causing your bad breath. Ask your doctor to change medications when necessary.

Who Treats Bad Breath?

In most cases, your dentist can treat the cause of bad breath. If your dentist determines that your mouth is healthy and the odor is not of oral origin, you may be referred to an internist to determine the odor source and treatment plan.  

All the best!

Alyaa Gad