Have you ever been on date or chatted with friends and felt that your (or someone else’s) breath was not so fresh? If so, you are not alone. Studies show that 50 percent of adults state that they have experienced bad breath. While many causes of bad breath are harmless and can be resolved with simple changes to your dental care routine, bad breath that lasts for an extended period of time, known as halitosis, can be a sign of something more serious.
Bad breath occurs when certain types of bacteria in our natural oral flora feed on food left behind after we eat. When these bacteria feed, they leave behind a foul-smelling waste product that causes bad breath. Saliva works to clean our mouths and remove this waste product, but if someone has dry mouth as a result of medications they take, salivary gland problems, or mouth breathing, their saliva is not functioning as well as it should, and they may experience bad breath. Cavities and gum disease can also contribute to bad breath as these conditions provide bacteria with extra places to hide in our mouths that are harder for saliva or our toothbrush and floss to access and clean. Other causes of bad breath and halitosis include: smoking and tobacco use and medical conditions such as sinus infections, gastric reflux, diabetes, liver disease or kidney disease. It is also important to note that foods we eat such as garlic, onions and coffee can affect the air we exhale causing bad breath.
If you notice your breath is less than fresh, following a healthy dental care routine can help. It is important to brush twice a day, floss daily, and use a tongue scraper to remove the bacteria that cause bad breath. Over-the-counter mouth rinses like Listerine can help fight bad breath by killing or neutralizing the bad breath-causing bacteria in your mouth. Drinking plenty of water, chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candies can help boost your saliva flow and freshen your breath. And xylitol, a newer sugar-free sweetener, has been actually proven to kill bacteria.
If you notice your bad breath persists, make an appointment to see your dentist. With a proper exam and hygiene visit, your dentist can detect any oral health problems that may exist such as cavities or gum disease and advise you on treatment options or dental products to use to address these issues. If your dentist determines your mouth is healthy, you may be referred to your primary care doctor to rule out other medical conditions that contribute to bad breath.