Diagnosing and Preventing Halitosis + Other Bad Breath Issues
Did you know your bad breath has a scientific name? Bad breath has to do with a lot more than just drinking too much coffee or forgetting to brush your teeth once. It can actually say a lot about your overall health.
What causes bad breath?
Also called halitosis, bad breath can be embarrassing. The very fact that store shelves are chock-full of mouthwashes, name-brand toothpaste, mints, gum, floss, and other products designed to fight bad breath, just goes to show how much anxiety it causes people.
While certain foods and habits are the biggest cause of bad breath, there could be a more serious condition causing a chronic stink in your mouth. It is important to see your physician or dentist to properly diagnose and treat your condition.
Food — The most obvious cause of mouth odors is the breakdown of food particles in and around your teeth. These particles can increase bacteria. In particular, onions, garlic, and spices are among the top culprits. After digesting these foods, they enter your bloodstream, carry to your lungs, then affect your breath.
Poor Dental Hygiene — This is a no-brainer, but if you do not brush and floss your teeth daily, the food particles mentioned above will remain in your mouth. The plaque will form on your teeth, and if not brushed away, can irritate your gums. This can eventually lead to plaque-filled pockets between your teeth and gums (periodontitis). Your tongue can also trap bacteria that produce odors. Even dentures can lead to a mouth odor if they are not cleaned regularly or even if they do not fit properly.
Tobacco — Smoking is also a major cause of an unpleasant mouth odor. Smokers and oral tobacco users are also more likely to contract gum disease, which is also another source of bad breath.
Dry Mouth — Saliva naturally cleanses your mouth, removing those food particles that cause bad odors. Dry mouth (a condition called xerostomia) can contribute to bad breath. This typically occurs during sleep, leading to the infamous “morning breath.” It also worsens if you sleep with your mouth open or snore. Chronic dry mouth can be caused by a problem with your salivary glands and some diseases.
Certain Medications — Some medications can indirectly produce a foul odor by contributing to dry mouth. Other medications can be broken down in the body to release chemicals that are then sometimes carried on your breath.
Mouth, Nose, and Throat Conditions — Small stones can form in the tonsils that are covered with bacteria, which is a condition that can also contribute to bad breath. Other infections or chronic inflammation in the nose can lead to postnasal drip, another common cause of a foul mouth odor.
Mouth Infections — Surgical wounds after oral surgery can also contribute to bad breath, such as tooth removal, or as a result of tooth decay, gum disease, or mouth sores.
Other Causes and Diseases — Some serious diseases, such as some cancers and metabolic disorders, can cause a breath odor as a result of the chemicals they produce. Chronic reflux of stomach acids (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can be also associated with bad breath. Young children with bad breath can sometimes be caused by a piece of food or foreign object lodged in the nostril.
If you believe you may have halitosis, you should visit your primary care physician. They may be able to diagnose you based on odor alone. They can also ask you some lifestyle questions about how often you brush and floss your teeth, as well as any medications you are currently taking. If your doctor does not believe your halitosis is related to an underlying medical condition, they may refer you to a dentist for further evaluation and diagnosis.
How to get rid of halitosis and prevent bad breath
While the medical term halitosis sounds daunting, it’s extremely preventable. Here are some of the many healthy habits and actions you can take on your own to prevent bad breath:
Brush Twice a Day — This is a given, but ensure that you brush your teeth at least 2 times every day using fluoride toothpaste. Do not forget about brushing along your gum line as well as all tooth surfaces. You should also use your brush to clean the surface of your tongue.
Floss Once a Day — In addition to brushing, you should floss at least once a day to remove fod from between your teeth.
Eat Plenty of Fruits and Veggies — Avoid foods like fatty meat and alcoholic beverages that can cause foul mouth odors; instead, focus on eating more fruits and vegetables.
Quit Smoking and Tobacco Habits — Any kind of tobacco can cause halitosis, so it’s important to cut these habits as soon as possible.
Try Sugar-Free Mints — As mentioned above, a dry mouth can come with an unpleasant smell. If you notice your mouth is dry, try sucking on sugar-free mints or chewing sugar-free gum, and drink plenty of water.
Take Care of Your Dentures — If you wear removable dentures, make sure to take them out every night. Brush the dentures and soak them overnight in a disinfecting solution. Removable retainers and braces should also be regularly cleaned. Contact your dentist for best practices and guidance on how to properly clean them.
Visit Your Dentist Every 6 Months — It’s essential to keep up with regular dentist visits to get your teeth professionally cleaned and checked. Most dental insurance plans will cover one checkup every six months, which is how often you should see your dentist for regular cleanings. These checkups are just as important as visits to your doctor because your dentist can inspect your teeth to identify any issues before they become bigger problems.
Surprisingly, 23% of American adults over the age of 24 have gone two or more days without brushing their teeth. For adults between the ages of 18 to 24, that number is 37%, according to The American Dental Association. Keeping up with regular dental cleanings and bruising your teeth twice a day, every day, can go a long way in preventing bad breath or conditions that result in halitosis.
Want to learn more tips for maintaining good gum and teeth health? Download our quick-tip checklist!