Bad breath, medically called halitosis, is used to describe any disagreeable, bad or unpleasant odour emanating from the mouth air and breath. This undesirable condition is a common complaint for both genders and for all age groups. It is very common in the general population with halitosis affecting almost 50 per cent of the population. Although halitosis has multifactorial origins, the source of 90 per cent of the cases is oral cavity such as poor oral hygiene, periodontal disease, tongue coat, food impaction, unclean dentures, faulty restorations, oral carcinomas, and throat infections.
The mouth is home to hundreds of bacterial species with various nutritional preferences. These organisms usually enjoy proteins, and as they digest proteins several fetid substances arise. Bacteria causing Volatile Sulfur Compounds (VSCs) that colonise over the tongue was recently understood as a main cause of bad breath.
Basically, all the food eaten begins to be broken down in your mouth. As foods are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, they are eventually carried to your lungs and given off in your breath. If you eat foods with strong odours (such as garlic or onions), brushing and flossing – even mouthwash – merely cover up the odour temporarily. The odour will not go away completely until the foods have passed through your body.
Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth may be a warning sign of gum (periodontal) disease. Gum disease is caused by the build-up of plaque on teeth. Bacteria cause the formation of toxins to form, which irritate the gums. If gum disease is left untreated, it can damage the gums and jawbone.
Other dental causes of bad breath includes poorly fitting dental appliances, yeast infections of the mouth, and dental caries (cavities).
The medical condition dry mouth, also called xerostomia, can also cause bad breath. Saliva is necessary to moisten the mouth, neutralise acids produced by plaque, and wash away dead cells that accumulate on the tongue, gums and cheeks. If not removed, these cells decompose and can cause bad breath. Dry mouth may be a side effect of various medication, salivary gland problems, or continuous breathing through the mouth.
Many other diseases and illnesses may cause bad breath. Here are some to be aware of: respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis, chronic sinus infections, postnasal drip, diabetes, chronic acid reflux, and liver or kidney problems.
Bad breath can be reduced or prevented if you:
1. Practise good oral hygiene. Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove food debris and plaque. Brush teeth after you eat. Don’t forget to brush the tongue, too. Replace your toothbrush every two to three months or after an illness. Use floss or an interdental cleaner to remove food particles and plaque between teeth once a day. Dentures should be removed at night and cleaned thoroughly before being placed in your mouth the next morning.
2. See your dentist regularly – at least twice a year. He or she will conduct an oral exam and professional teeth cleaning and will be able to detect and treat periodontal disease, dry mouth or other problems that may be the cause of bad mouth odour.
3. Stop smoking and chewing tobacco-based products. Ask your dentist for tips on kicking the habit.
4. Drink lots of water. This will keep your mouth moist. Chewing gum (preferably sugarless) or sucking on candy (preferably sugarless) also stimulates the production of saliva, which helps wash away food particles and bacteria. Gums and mints containing xylitol are best.
5. Keep a log of the foods you eat. If you think they may be causing bad breath, bring the log to your dentist to review. Similarly, make a list of the medication you take. Some drugs may play a role in creating mouth odours.