Bad breath, also called halitosis, can be embarrassing and in some cases may even cause anxiety. It’s no wonder that store shelves are overflowing with gum, mints, mouthwashes and other products designed to fight bad breath. But many of these products are only temporary measures because they don’t address the cause of the problem. Bad breath affects an estimated 25 percent of people. There are a number of possible causes of halitosis, but the vast majority come down to oral hygiene. Halitosis is the third most common reason that people seek dental care, after tooth decay and gum disease.
Halitosis or fetor oris is relatively easy to remedy, even though it can cause a significant amount of anxiety, embarrassment, and worry.
Simple home remedies and lifestyle changes, such as improved dental hygiene and quitting smoking, can often remove the issue. If bad breath persists, however, it is advisable to visit a doctor to check for underlying causes.
Common causes of halitosis
There are several normal and common causes of halitosis that occur very commonly. Listed below are some of them.
- Tobacco: Tobacco products cause their own types of mouth odor. Additionally, they increase the chances of gum disease which can also cause bad breath.
- Food: The breakdown of food particles stuck in the teeth can cause odors. Some foods such as onions and garlic can also cause bad breath. After they are digested, their breakdown products are carried in the blood to the lungs where they can affect the breath.
- Dry mouth: Saliva naturally cleans the mouth. If the mouth is naturally dry or dry due to a specific disease, such as xerostomia, odors can build up.
- Dental hygiene: Brushing and flossing ensure the removal of small particles of food that can build up and slowly break down, producing odor. A film of bacteria called plaque builds up if brushing is not regular. This plaque can irritate the gums and cause inflammation between the teeth and gums called periodontitis. Dentures that are not cleaned regularly or properly can also harbor bacteria that cause halitosis.
- Crash diets: Fasting and low-carbohydrate eating programs can produce halitosis. This is due to the breakdown of fats producing chemicals called ketones. These ketones have a strong aroma.
- Drugs: Certain medications can reduce saliva and, therefore, increase odors. Other drugs can produce odors as they breakdown and release chemicals in the breath. Examples include nitrates used to treat angina, some chemotherapy chemicals, and some tranquilizers, such as phenothiazines. Individuals who take vitamin supplements in large doses can also be prone to bad breath.
- Mouth, nose, and throat conditions: Sometimes, small, bacteria-covered stones can form on the tonsils at the back of the throat and produce odor. Also, infections or inflammation in the nose, throat, or sinuses can cause halitosis.
- Foreign body: Bad breath can be caused if they have a foreign body lodged in their nasal cavity, especially in children.
- Diseases: Some cancers, liver failure, and other metabolic diseases can cause halitosis, due to the specific mixes of chemicals that they produce. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause bad breath due to the regular reflux of stomach acids.
- Gum disease: Gingivitis is an inflammation of your gums that can cause redness, swelling and bleeding. It’s caused by plaque, a sticky film that builds up on your teeth and can be removed by brushing and flossing. Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, which damages gum tissue and can lead to tooth and bone loss around your teeth. Trench mouth is an advanced form of gum disease that can involve intense pain, bleeding, fever and fatigue.
Rarer causes of bad breath
As mentioned, oral hygiene is the most common reason for bad breath. However, there might be other possible reasons as well. Listed below are some of the rarer reasons of halitosis.
- Ketoacidosis: When the insulin levels of a person with diabetes are very low, their bodies can no longer use sugar and begin to use fat stores instead. When fat is broken down, ketones are produced and build up. Ketones can be poisonous when found in large numbers and produce a distinctive and unpleasant breath odor. Ketoacidosis is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition.
- Bowel obstruction: Breath can smell like feces if there has been a prolonged period of vomiting, especially if a bowel obstruction is present.
- Bronchiectasis: This is a long-term condition in which airways become wider than normal, allowing for a build-up of mucus that leads to bad breath.
- Aspiration pneumonia: A swelling or infection in the lungs or airways due to inhaling vomit, saliva, food, or liquids.
Symptoms of halitosis
Bad breath odors vary, depending on the source or the underlying cause. Some people worry too much about their breath even though they have little or no mouth odor, while others have bad breath and don’t know it. Because it’s difficult to assess how your own breath smells, ask a close friend or relative to confirm your bad-breath questions.
If no one is available, one way of checking the odor is to lick your wrist, leave it to dry, and then smell it. A bad smell on this area of the wrist is likely to suggest that you have halitosis.
Some individuals are concerned about their breath even though they may have little or no mouth odor. This condition is called halitophobia and can lead to obsessive mouth-cleansing behavior.
How to prevent halitosis
There are some simple methods to prevent the onset of halitosis and avoid bad breath.
- Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day.Flossing reduces the build-up of food particles and plaque from between the teeth. Brushing only cleans around 60 percent of the surface of the tooth.
- Brush your tongue, cheeks, and the roof of your mouth. Most bad breath bacteria live on the tongue. , So brushing or scraping the tongue can make a big difference in your breath.
- If you have dentures, take them out at night and clean them completely before putting them back in your mouth. Talk with your dentist before using deodorizing sprays or tablets. Some only mask the odor for a short time.
- If you smoke, quit. You will have better smelling breath, and a healthier body overall.
- Keep your saliva flowing by eating healthy foods that make you chew. Carrots and apples require a lot of saliva. You can also chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candies. If you still don’t have enough saliva to keep your mouth moist, your dentist may suggest artificial saliva.
- Visit your dentist on a regular basis. Regular check-ups can find problems such as gum disease, infections, and dry mouth. If you have bad breath and the dentist can’t find a cause, you may be referred to your primary healthcare provider for more follow-up.
If you practice good hygiene and you still have halitosis, schedule an appointment with your dentist. Some people build up plaque faster than others and may just need more frequent cleanings. You can also schedule an appointment with a periodontist (gum disease specialist) who can see if gum disease is the cause of halitosis.
If your dentist doesn’t find any oral health issues — such as cavities or gum disease — then your primary care physician can determine if another condition is causing halitosis.
Halitosis is a common condition that can cause embarrassment or low self-esteem. But bad breath isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s often just your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t quite right. The good news is that you can usually get rid of halitosis by treating the underlying health condition. Your dentist and primary care physician can work together to find out what’s effective for you.
NOTE: The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.