Bad breath, also called “halitosis”, is an unpleasant smell or odour on your breath that can be easily detected by others. It is estimated that up to 50% of the population suffers from bad breath!
Bad breath can have negative effects on your relationships, friendships, and social situations, including your romantic life. It can ruin interviews, dates, first impressions, and interactions with work colleagues. Some people may not even be aware they have bad breath until a close friend or someone else points it out to them – which many people are reluctant to do.
The good news is that if you suffer from bad breath, you have many options to help alleviate the problem and avoid potential embarrassment.
Causes of bad breath
It is not uncommon to have temporary bouts of bad breath. There are a number of possible reasons for bad breath; some suggest the presence of other conditions, and some do not. In most cases, excessive odour-causing bacteria in the mouth cause bad breath. These bacteria thrive and multiply on food particles left on and between teeth. As they grow and multiply, the bacteria metabolize the food particles and as a by-product, emit sulphur, which has an unpleasant odour.
Several other factors can cause bad breath, including:
- Certain foods, such as garlic, onions and coffee
- Tobacco products, such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco
- Prescription medications
- Dry mouth
- Poor oral hygiene
Although temporary bouts of bad breath are common, the underlying medical conditions (e.g. acid reflux disease), systemic diseases (e.g. diabetes, liver disease) or periodontal disease (gum disease, or gingivitis) can cause bad breath. Bad breath is an especially common sign of early gingivitis. Constant, severe bad breath can suggest the presence of many of these conditions.
How to prevent bad breath
In most cases, practicing good oral hygiene and scheduling regular preventative care dental appointments can significantly reduce the occurrence of bad breath.
10 tips to help get rid of bad breath:
- Flossing and brushing your teeth is crucial. Brush twice per day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste.
- Remember to clean the surface of the tongue while brushing your teeth (bacteria tends to accumulate on the tongue, which can cause bad breath).
- Floss at least once per day to remove food particles between your teeth. If you are unsure of how to floss properly, please speak with your dental care provider.
- Use a mouthwash with an anti-bacterial agent 1-2 times per day after flossing and brushing to kill odour-causing bacteria, freshen breath and improve your oral hygiene overall.
- Chew sugar-free gum after meals or snacks to help clear your mouth of odour-causing bacteria.
- Drink plenty of water during and after meals & snacks to help rinse food particles and bacteria from your mouth.
- Quit smoking and/or the use of all tobacco products, as tobacco can cause foul breath as well as other oral hygiene and health problems (periodontal disease, gingivitis, dry mouth or oral cancer).
- Minimize the amount of alcohol you consume, as alcohol can cause dry mouth.
- Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, as the fibrous quality of these foods can help naturally remove odour-causing plaque from your teeth.
- Minimize the amount of coffee and odour-causing foods you consume (e.g. onions, garlic, certain spices) as these are difficult to eliminate from your breath.
10 ways your dentist can help you with your bad breath problem:
- Professionally clean your teeth: Regular cleanings performed by a dental care provider (at least every six months) can help ensure that excess odour-causing plaque and bacteria are effectively removed from your teeth.
- Rule out underlying oral health problems: Regular examinations performed by a dentist can determine if underlying oral health problems (e.g. infection, dry mouth, cavities, gingivitis or periodontal disease) are causing bad breath. If any of these conditions that cause bad breath are present, your dental care provider can develop a treatment plan with you to effectively remedy the problem.
- Recommend an effective toothpaste & mouthwash: Maintaining good oral hygiene should be a crucial aspect of your day, and with regular use of the right dental care products, it should be an easy one too. A dentist or dental care provider can provide you with recommendations on which toothpastes and anti-bacterial mouthwashes are most effective for managing bad breath. The dentist or hygienist may also provide you with a special type of mouthwash or mouth spray if your bad breath is severe. Effectively flossing and brushing will also help prevent gum disease and tooth decay too!
- Test your breath: A dental care provider can determine if you actually have bad breath by testing your breath using meters, such as a Halimeter or an OralChroma. These types of breath meters measure the amount of sulfides in your breath that can cause bad odours.
- Recommend a good tongue scraper: Because odour-causing bacteria tend to accumulate on the tongue, especially towards back of the mouth and back part of the tongue, a good tongue scraper recommended by a dentist can help.
- Check for ill-fitting or loose dentures, oral appliances or removable braces: Areas of your mouth can become irritated when orthodontic devices or dentures are too loose or do not fit properly, causing sores on your gums and even infection. It is recommended that you visit a dental care provider at least twice yearly to ensure your orthodontic devices or dentures are fitting properly and have them professionally cleaned to remove excess bacteria. At these appointments you can also receive recommendations on the best dental care products for maintaining your oral appliances and maintaining good oral health.
- Check for old dental work: A dentist can fill new cavities or repair defective fillings that have been trapping food particles or have become infected. The dentist can also check old dental bridge work, veneers, full or partial dentures or dental crowns to ensure there are no infections, breakages or trapped food particles, all of which can cause bad breath.
- Determine if your wisdom teeth need removal: When wisdom teeth are only partially erupted they can become difficult to clean, leaving food particles trapped in and around them. This can cause tooth decay, infection and a foul odour, and your dental care provider may advise a wisdom teeth extraction.
- Check your prescriptions: Certain medications can contribute to dry mouth (xerostomia) and a foul taste and odour in your mouth. A dentist can help pinpoint which medications (e.g. blood pressure pills, anti-depressants, anti-histamines) may be causing the problem and may recommend discussing these medications with your medical doctor.
- Suggest a complete physical with a medical doctor: If the dentist determines there are no oral health issues present after an oral examination, the dentist may recommend undergoing a complete physical examination with a medical doctor. Bad breath can be caused by other underlying health problems including liver problems, acid reflux, diabetes and sinus infections.