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Beware of Bad Breath


At one time or another, everyone has had bad breath, which can be embarrassing. Perhaps you have been in the presence of someone with foul breath and were desperate to end the conversation. Either way, it can be a problem.

Bad breath is also called halitosis. Periodically bad breath occurs or can be more prominent for a variety of reasons. It could be as simple as eating food loaded with garlic and onions, but it could signal something much more serious. For example, if your breath smells “fruity,” it might indicate diabetes.

How does bad breath happen?
In most people, bad breath is caused by millions of bacteria that live in our mouths. The conditions that promote bacteria growth are a moist environment, which makes the mouth perfect for producing bad breath.

Most types of halitosis are normal, meaning they do not promote a concern of health issues. Below are some possible situations that may lead to bad breath: 

  • Poor dental hygiene—infrequent or improper brushing and flossing, which allows bits of food that are stuck between the teeth to decay inside the mouth. Poor oral hygiene eventually will lead to periodontal (gum) disease, which also can cause bad breath.
  • Infections in the mouth can be caused by either a cavity in a tooth or by periodontal (gum) disease. Some other causes may include:
  • Red or swollen gums that may bleed easily, especially after brushing or flossing
  • Pus between teeth or a pocket of pus (abscess) at the base of a tooth
  • Loose teeth or a change in how a denture fits
  • Painful, open sores on the tongue or gums
  • Respiratory tract infections in the throat, sinus, or lungs such as:
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes (“swollen glands”) in the neck
  • Fever
  • Stuffy nose
  • Greenish or yellowish discharge from the nose
  • Cough that produces mucus
  • External sources—the most common cause of bad breath—such as garlic, onions, coffee, cigarette smoking, and chewing tobacco.
  • Smoking and drinking coffee, tea, and/or red wine also contribute to teeth discoloration.
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)—can be caused by salivary gland problems, medicines, or “mouth breathing.” Many prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines cause dry mouth. Symptoms may include:
  • Difficulty swallowing dry foods
  • Difficulty speaking for a long time because of mouth dryness
  • Burning in the mouth
  • Unusually high number of cavities
  • Dry eyes
  • Illnesses such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, lung disease, sinus disease, reflux disease, and others

How do you know if you have bad breath?  

Unfortunately, odor-detecting cells in the body’s olfactory system (the nose) may not react to bad breath as they get used to the smell.

Another term for this is a ‘deaf nose.’

One way to detect bad breath is if someone moves away from you when you are speaking, or stays more than an arm’s length distance from you whenever you are in conversation. Be observant of body language; it can speak volumes of how others may be reacting to your breath.

Think about it; how do you react around someone who has bad breath?

If you experience any extreme symptoms, it is wise to visit a dentist or a physician to determine the cause for bad breath, as it may be serious. For example, if someone’s breath has a urine-like odor, it might indicate a high risk for kidney disease or kidney failure. Why take the risk? If there is something unusual about your breath or you have a friend or family member with severe halitosis, get the situation checked out immediately.

Good dental hygiene is a must in preventing bad breath. Here are some tips to help you beat the ‘bad breath blahs’:  

  • Floss and brush your teeth daily, preferably after eating. Also brush your tongue, where most of your bad breath occurs, especially towards the back of the tongue.
  • If your dentist recommends it, rinse with a mouthwash they approve.
  • Use a tongue scraper to eliminate odor-causing bacteria on the tongue.
  • Visit the dentist regularly (at least twice a year) for an exam and teeth cleaning.
  • If you can’t brush, chew sugar-free gum, preferably sorbitol-free, after a meal to keep your breath more fresh and slow plaque from forming.
  • Rinsing your mouth with water can freshen your breath and help to loosen food particles.
  • Drink plenty of water each day because it helps your body to increase saliva, which helps to keep bacteria under control.

The majority of bad breath problems can be prevented and treated with proper professional and home care. It is up to you to take preventative steps to stop bad breath before it begins.

Sources upon request
Photo credit: AntonioGuillem/iStock