Store shelves are overflowing with mints, mouthwashes and other products designed to help people control bad breath. Yet these products help control bad breath (halitosis) only temporarily. And, they actually may be less effective in controlling bad breath than simply rinsing your mouth with water after brushing and flossing your teeth.
Certain foods, health conditions and habits are among the causes of bad breath. In many cases, you can improve bad breath with proper dental hygiene.
If simple self-care techniques don’t solve the problem, you may want to see your dentist or doctor to rule out a more serious condition that may be causing your bad breath.
Bad breath or Halitosis
The causes of bad breath are numerous.
- Food: Eating foods containing volatile oils is another source of bad breath. Onions and garlic are the best known examples, but other vegetables and spices also can cause bad breath.
- Alcohol behaves in the same fashion. Alcohol itself has almost no odor, however. The characteristic smell on your breath is mainly the odor of other components of the beverage.
- Dental problems: Poor dental hygiene and periodontal disease can be a source of bad breath. If you don’t brush and floss daily, food particles remain in your mouth, collecting bacteria and emitting hydrogen sulfur vapors. A colorless, sticky film of bacteria (plaque) forms on your teeth.
If not brushed away, plaque can irritate your gums (gingivitis) and cause tooth decay. Eventually, plaque-filled pockets can form between your teeth and gums (periodontitis), worsening this problem — and your breath. Dentures that aren’t cleaned regularly or don’t fit properly also can harbor odor-causing bacteria and food particles.
- Dry mouth: Saliva helps cleanse and moisten your mouth. A dry mouth enables dead cells to accumulate on your tongue, gums and cheeks which decompose and cause odor. Dry mouth naturally occurs during sleep especially if you sleep with your mouth open. Some medications as well as smoking can lead to a chronic dry mouth, as can a problem with your salivary glands.
- Diseases: Chronic lung infections and lung abscesses can produce very foul-smelling breath. Kidney failure can cause a urine-like odor, and liver failure may cause an odor described as “fishy.” People with uncontrolled diabetes often have a fruity breath odor.
- Mouth, nose and throat conditions: Bad breath is also associated with sinus infections because nasal discharge from your sinuses into the back of your throat can cause mouth odor. Bronchitis and other upper respiratory infections in which you cough up odorous sputum are other sources of bad breath.
- Tobacco products: Smoking dries out your mouth and causes its own unpleasant mouth odor. Tobacco users are also more likely to have periodontal disease, an additional source of bad breath.
- Severe dieting: Dieters may develop unpleasant “fruity” breath from ketoacidosis, the breakdown of chemicals during fasting.
When to seek medical advice for Bad breath
Most people can prevent or improve bad breath by practicing proper dental hygiene. If bad breath persists despite self-care, see your dentist. If the cause isn’t dental, see your doctor to determine a possible medical cause. You may need a physical examination and testing to pinpoint the underlying cause.