What causes bad breath? And how can it be treated?

Bad breath, or to give it it’s scientific name, halitosis, is something that many people complain of, and can be socially embarrassing. Fortunately, once the cause is identified, it can be treated effectively by your dentist or hygienist.

Some of the causes of bad breath could be certain foods you’ve consumed or poor oral hygiene.

However, chronic, and persistent bad breath should not be ignored, as it may indicate the presence of dental decay, gum disease or even the fact that you may be suffering from a more serious, underlying medical condition. It could stem from debilitating illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal conditions, and many more.

Having bad breath can severely affect your social and professional life.

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Factors that cause bad breath

Food. The breakdown of food particles stuck in and around your teeth can cause bad odours. Food particles can increase the presence of bacteria which are responsible for the release of volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs) which give out a bad smell. Consuming certain foods, such as onions, garlic, and spices can also cause bad breath. After these foods are digested, they enter your bloodstream, are carried to your lungs, and affect your breath.

Tobacco products. Smoking and chewing tobacco products can cause an unpleasant odour. The chances of contracting gum disease are also higher with tobacco users, which also causes bad breath.

Poor dental hygiene. If you don’t brush and floss regularly, food particles remain in your mouth, and these can fester. These food particles are a breeding ground for bad breath causing bacteria. A sticky film of bacteria called plaque eventually forms on your teeth. This plaque can irritate the gums and cause inflammation and plaque-filled pockets between the teeth and gums, a condition called periodontitis. Your tongue can also trap bacteria that produce odours. Therefore, scraping your tongue with a tongue cleaner or with the back of a toothbrush that has ridges is important.

Dentures that aren’t cleaned regularly or don’t fit properly can also harbour odour-causing bacteria.

Dry mouth. This is one of the key reasons for bad breath in many individuals. Saliva naturally cleanses your mouth, removing particles left behind by food that cause bad odours. A condition called dry mouth or xerostomia can contribute to bad breath because the production of saliva is decreased. Dry mouth may be caused by certain medications; a salivary gland disorder; or due to always breathing through the mouth instead of the nose.

Medications. Certain medications can reduce saliva, leading to a dry mouth which causes bad breath. Others can be broken down in the body to release chemicals in the breath.

Infections in your mouth. Bad breath can be caused by surgical wounds after oral surgery, such as tooth removal; tooth decay; gum disease (gingivitis); or mouth sores.

Tonsil stones and respiratory conditions. Bad breath can occasionally stem from small, bacteria-covered stones that form in the tonsils that produce odour. Additionally, respiratory infections such as chronic bronchitis, pneumonia and chronic sinusitis infections can cause halitosis.

Diseases. Some cancers, diabetes, liver or kidney disorder and gastrointestinal disorders can cause a distinctive smelly odour as a result of the chemicals they produce. Regular and chronic reflux of stomach acids (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD) is also associated with bad breath.

How is halitosis diagnosed?

Dentists are well trained and are the best placed professionals to diagnose halitosis. During a dental exam to check for suspected bad breath, the entire mouth is examined to see if a cause can be found, such as decay, gum disease or the presence of an infection.

There are sophisticated detectors too that can identify the chemicals responsible for bad breath and rate the odour accurately.

Modern science also analyses salivary components and identifies the bacteria present that may be causing halitosis in order for your dentist to effectively treat this condition.

Preventing and treating bad breath

Practising good oral hygiene is key to avoiding having a bad breath. Proper oral care can prevent cavities, infections in your mouth, and gum disease, all known sources of halitosis.

Some other ways you can prevent bad breath are cutting down on using tobacco products that lead to dry mouth, one of the major reasons for bad breath, and scheduling regular dental check-ups and cleanings.

Treating halitosis

Treatment for bad breath can vary depending on the cause, which could include, poor oral health, gum disease and excessive plaque build-up. Addressing these conditions by nipping the source of bad breath in the bud can prevent the bad smell.

If your dentist doesn’t find a cause for bad breath after a dental examination, an underlying health condition could be the reason. In such a scenario, your dentist will refer you to an appropriate specialist.

At Micris Dental Clinic , we have a whole team of highly qualified and globally recognised dental specialists who can diagnose and treat halitosis that stems from poor oral health or infections of the mouth. Contact us to book your oral health check-up.

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