Halitosis, commonly known as bad breath, is a widespread oral health problem that is easily noticeable in social settings. Halitosis affects people of all ages.

You are more prone to have bad breath if you:

  • Have poor dental hygiene practices, or find it difficult to maintain dental hygiene (including the elderly, disabled, and children).
  • Wear braces, dentures, or other oral appliances.
  • Smoke regularly, especially if you have periodontal disease (another contributor to bad breath).
  • Have certain medical conditions, including dental conditions (tooth decay, impacted teeth, abscessed teeth, periodontal disease), throat and respiratory conditions (sinusitis, bronchitis, post-nasal drip, allergies, and dry mouth), and other diseases like uncontrolled diabetes, kidney disease, and alcoholism.
  • Are taking certain medications that inhibit saliva flow or produce dry mouth. These medications may include cardiac medications, blood pressure medications, vitamin supplements, antihistamines, calcium blockers, and psychiatric drugs.
  • Consume foods that lead to dehydration and tooth decay, or if you have a diet that is lacking in fiber or is high in protein. Such foods include meat, cheese, curry and spices, onions, and garlic, and beverages such as diet soda and coffee.

Causes of Bad Breath

Halitosis is produced when the bacteria found in the mouth, nose, or stomach interacts with the air. Bacteria that are in the gums and between the teeth in the form of plague, leads to halitosis, tooth decay, and gum disease when not removed. Bacteria that are found in the nose may be a consequence of nasal dysfunction, such as a genetic abnormality in the nasal passage which inhibits the flow of mucus. In people with conditions such as sinusitis, post-nasal drip, and allergies, bacteria may travel from the nose to the back of the tongue. If dental hygiene is poor or saliva does not flow well, bacteria may lie inactive in the mouth and be a trigger for halitosis.

Bacterial Scents

Several sources of bacteria contribute to the odor of bad breath. These bacteria are found in other unpleasant odors, such as that from dead bodies, which is a mix of oxygen and sulfur compounds and nitrogen-containing gases. Other bacterial odors and their chemical components include rotten egg stench (hydrogen sulfide), smelly feet (isovaleric acid), decayed meat (putrescine), and feces (methyl mercaptan and skatole). Such foul odors emanating from the breath can be controlled and eliminated simply by having proper dental hygiene and regular dental check-ups.

Bad Breath Solutions

Some simple solutions for preventing and treating halitosis require little effort in daily maintenance.

Use Good Dental Hygiene

Good dental hygiene is important and is the first step in preventing halitosis that begins in the mouth. The bacteria that cause bad breath often come from food that is lodged between the teeth and around the gums. To prevent bacteria from finding a suitable place in the mouth to live and thrive, remove food debris often. It is important to brush your teeth at least twice a day, and floss daily. After eating meals that are high in protein or foods that cause dehydration, brushing and flossing teeth are essential routine.

Antiseptic mouthwash is a good product to use in reducing bacteria growth that causes halitosis. It is preferable to use the mouthwash in the morning, after meals, and before going to bed. The ingredients in the mouthwash that fight bacteria may include chlorhexidine, chlorine dioxide, zinc chloride and oils (such as eucalyptus oil).

Tongue scrapers may also be used in preventing bad breath. To use a tongue scraper, gently scrape the back of the tongue to remove the mucus, which may contain bacteria.

Those who wear dental braces, dentures, or other dental appliances may have a greater tendency to have halitosis if these appliances are not properly cleaned. It is important to follow the dentist’s instructions in cleaning them, particularly if they are removed at night.

Maintain a Proper Diet

A proper diet is essential in maintaining good dental hygiene and controlling halitosis. Avoid foods that cause dehydration; instead, eat foods that promote saliva flow, such as raw vegetables which are rich in fiber. Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated also helps in preventing bad breath. Beverages that have high content of sugar and acid, such as soda and juice, tend to result in bacterial growth that causes bad breath. In the morning, have a healthy breakfast to encourage saliva flow, after a night’s sleep when bacteria and odor have developed in the mouth.

Use Bad Breath Aids

For eliminating halitosis in the short term, here are some temporary measures:

  • Mints and gum freshen up the breath and are useful for quick fixes if you do not have access to a sink or toothbrush.
  • Using straws to drink beverages that have high sugar content is a good way to prevent the liquid from adhering to the teeth or tongue. Straws are especially useful for those who find it difficult to have proper dental hygiene, like the elderly, small children, and disabled people.
  • If you find that you have a chronically dry mouth, over-the-counter and prescription medications may help to treat dry mouth and reduce halitosis. There are toothpastes, toothbrushes, mouth rinses, and breath sprays available in drugstores that are made to relieve dry mouth.

A note of caution is in order if you have bad breath, discolored mucus, or find colored blotches or bumps on your tongue. These may be symptoms of oral diseases such as oral herpes or cancer, and you should see your dentist or doctor for a diagnosis.