What’s causing your bad breath and what can you do about it?

Bad breath (halitosis) is one of the most common dental complaints, affecting up to 25% of the population. It can cause distress, embarrassment, and anxiety among sufferers, but fortunately it’s usually very easy to treat. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of bad breath and what you can do to freshen up… 

Poor oral hygiene

The bacteria in your mouth are essential for breaking down food, but they release unpleasant-smelling chemical compounds in the process. If you don’t brush and floss regularly, food particles can get trapped around teeth and dentures, under your gums, inside cavities, and even on the surface of your tongue. This allows the bacteria to flourish, leading to bad breath, plaque, and gum disease.

Food and drink

Even with a good dental hygiene routine, some strongly-flavored foods and drinks tend to linger. Garlic and onions are the main culprits, but spices, coffee, and alcohol can also leave an unpleasant odor.

This lingering effect is thanks to certain chemicals breaking down and remaining your system. They enter your lungs through the bloodstream, so you continue to exhale the chemicals until they disappear from your body altogether.

Smoking

Tobacco smoke is made up of thousands of chemicals, many of which have a strong, unpleasant smell. These chemicals linger in your lungs, airways, and mouth for hours after you smoke, creating that unmistakably pungent ‘smoker’s breath’. They also contribute to dry mouth, plaque, and gum disease, all common causes of bad breath.

Diets

Certain diets or eating plans are known to cause bad breath. This is especially common when beginning a fasting, low-carbohydrate and ketogenic diet, where your body breaks down fat to create ketones for energy. When emitted through your breath, ketones have an unpleasant, sweet-sour odor, but this disappears with time.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth happens when you don’t produce enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth can be a side effect of mouth-breathing, salivary gland problems, or certain medications.

Saliva is essential for neutralizing plaque acids and maintaining a healthy pH balance in your mouth. Without it, the type and quantity of bacteria in your mouth changes, which can cause your breath to change, too. You might notice this when you wake up with ‘morning breath’, for example.

Saliva also washes away dead cells and food particles from your gums, cheeks, and tongue. If your mouth is dry, this leaves organic matter to decay and decompose unchecked. Of course, an unpleasant smell is the result!

Illness or Infection

Bad breath is sometimes caused by an underlying illness or infection. 

Bacteria from an infection in the mouth, nose, throat, or respiratory system can release foul-smelling toxins via your breath. Examples include sinusitis, tonsillitis, pneumonia, abscesses, or infected wounds from surgery.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD) can cause halitosis due to the constant reflux of stomach acid into the mouth. Certain cancers, kidney disease, liver failure, and metabolic disease can all cause bad breath due to the breakdown of certain chemicals, which are then released via your breath.

Medication

Some drugs cause bad breath by reducing saliva production (see Dry Mouth), while others produce an odor as they break down and release chemicals. Common offenders are nitrates (prescribed for angina), chemotherapy drugs, and certain tranquilizers. Vitamin overuse is also a known cause of bad breath.

How to manage bad breath

Depending on the cause, bad breath is fairly simple to treat. A regular, consistent dental hygiene routine is the first step, and most people find that this alone is enough to freshen their breath. It also helps to reduce plaque build-up and protect you from cavities and gum disease, both common causes of bad breath.

Brush and floss thoroughly twice a day to remove food particles and bacteria build-up from your mouth. Don’t forget to brush your tongue, too, or even invest in a tongue-scraper. Finally, to rinse away debris and reduce bacteria levels, finish with an anti-bacterial mouthwash.

Limit strong foods

If you like strong flavors such as garlic and onion, you’ll already know that brushing alone won’t get rid of the smell. If you can’t bring yourself to limit your favorite foods and drinks, you can chew sugar-free gum and use a breath freshener to minimize the smell until the food leaves your system.

Quit smoking

You can neutralize the smell of cigarettes on your breath to some extent, but it is almost impossible to eliminate completely. For the sake of your dental and overall health, the best course of action is to try to quit smoking.

Manage dry mouth

You can manage dry mouth by drinking lots of water, breathing through your nose, using a humidifier at home, and avoiding drying coffee, tobacco, and alcohol-free mouthwash. If there’s a medical cause, such as blocked sinuses or medication, see your physician for help.

Visit your physician

If you have symptoms of an infection like pneumonia, tonsillitis, sinusitis, see your physician right away. If the infection is causing your bad breath, then it will likely be resolved as the infection clears. If you suspect that medication or chronic illness is causing your bad breath, speak to your care provider about ways to manage your symptoms.

When to see your dentist about bad breath

If a consistent oral hygiene routine doesn’t get your bad breath under control, then it’s time to see a professional. We can provide a thorough cleaning to reduce plaque and bacteria, and we can check for problems like cavities, infection, abscess, or gum disease that need to be treated.

Banish bad breath now!

We know just how self-conscious bad breath can make you feel, but you don’t have to live with the anxiety or embarrassment of halitosis. If you need advice on improving your dental hygiene, or if you suspect an underlying problem, we can help. Call Mountain Peak Dentistry now on (303) 988-7800 to arrange an appointment.

About Mountain Peak Dentistry
Mountain Peak Dentistry is the dental practice of leading dentist, Dr. Brennan Bonati. We’re proud to be recognized as the most trusted, reliable and compassionate dental practice in Lakewood, CO and the surrounding areas, providing comprehensive, restorative and cosmetic dentistry .

Author
Dr. Brennan Bonati

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