Halitosis: The Invisible Cloud
Having bad breath, also known as halitosis, can be one of the most embarrassing and frustrating things to deal with. We all know how horrible it is to hold a conversation with someone with rancid breath, and we all pray that we’re never on the other side of that conversation. But a lot of the time, we don’t even realize how bad our breath can be.
Bad breath can happen for a number of reasons, some more serious than others. Something as small as improper brushing or eating smelly foods can cause our breath to smell, but sometimes bad breath is a symptom of an underlying, more serious disease or issue, like gum disease or an infected tooth. That means it is important to know what is causing your breath to smell, what you can do to reduce your halitosis, and when you may need to consider seeing a doctor.
Bad Breath Causes
Bad breath can be caused by a number of reasons. Some of those reasons cannot be easily avoided and some can be managed or controlled. Other reasons for bad breath could mean that there is a medical condition that needs attention. If you or a family member is experiencing bad breath, identifying the source is the first step in determining how to address this embarrassing problem.
Strong Smelling Foods
Bad breath in many cases begins with the food that we eat. If you eat something full of garlic, smelly cheeses, onions, or other smelly foods, you’re probably going to notice that your breath smells a little bad afterwords. In most cases, if you brush your teeth or chew on a piece of minty gum, the smell will go away or be masked by a fresher scent. If you allow the scent to linger, you will find that your breath may get progressively worse the longer you wait before brushing. But bad breath caused by food is more than just food particles lingering in your mouth. The smell of those foods are circulating through your body and becoming a part of the air you breathe out. When you eat something that itself smells, the food is broken down and digested, and eventually absorbed in your bloodstream. As the blood circulates throughout your body, it eventually arrives at the lungs, where the scent of the food particles can escape in your breath. So, while brushing, flossing, chewing gum, or using mouthwash can help mask the smell of your strong breath, the odor will need to completely pass through your body before you will no longer be at risk for halitosis. If you want to avoid bad breath caused by foods completely, the easiest way to do so is to not eat foods that smell bad or strong. If it smells bad on the plate, it will probably smell bad on your breath.
Consider the events you have coming up and if fresh breath is necessary. It isn’t recommended to eat a meal of anchovies, onions and garlic if you’re on a first date or about to meet the prospective in-laws. Save those meals for when you’re home alone and you don’t want to risk offending the nostrils of those around you.
Poor Oral Hygiene
Another very common reason for halitosis is that perhaps you’re not brushing and flossing properly. Brushing and flossing helps remove the food particles and bacteria from our teeth, gums, and tongue. When they aren’t removed properly, food stuck in your teeth can begin to break down and feed the bacteria growth in the mouth. As the bacteria in your mouth grows, so will your bad breath. This is probably the easiest form of bad breath to eliminate. All you need to do is properly brush, floss, and use mouthwash at least twice a day. This will cleanse your mouth of any unwanted bacteria and hopefully leave you smelling fresh. If you have dentures or braces, you may have some trouble getting your mouth properly cleaned. You may want to purchase an antibacterial mouthwash that can kill the hard to reach bacteria in your mouth, or ask your dentist or orthodontist for special flossers or tooth brushes for getting in the hard to reach areas. It is important to keep your mouth clean, not only for the sake of your breath, but also because bad oral conditions can cause more advanced medical problems down the road.
Bad breath can be a symptom of any number of medical conditions, some of which may require additional attention from medical professionals. For most of these conditions, your bad breath will not be your only symptom, but if you are having trouble finding the source of your bad breath, you may want to consider any other bodily symptoms you have.
A sinus infection could be one of the reasons you may be experiencing bad breath. With a sinus infection, also known as sinusitis, you may have an infection or allergies that is causing inflammation in your nasal passages. Your bad breath may be caused by nasal drainage in the back of your throat, which can also cause symptoms like a sore throat, coughing and sneezing. To get rid of bad breath associated with a sinus infection, you’ll need to visit your doctor for antibiotics or other treatments like nose sprays and sinus flushing. When you can rid your sinuses of the infection, you should be able to get rid of your halitosis if this is the cause.
Pericoronitis and Gum Disease
Pericoronitis is the inflammation of your gums and similar to gum disease, also called periodontitis.The difference between the two is that standard gum disease can occur around any teeth while pericoronitis happens around partially formed teeth, such as wisdom teeth or back molars as they begin growing into place. When you have unhealthy gums, you’re creating an environment for infection and bacteria to breed. As bacteria sits on the gums, more and more bacteria will inhabit the area. This bacteria can cause bad breath if it is not treated and eliminated.
If you have pericoronitis or periodontitis, you may experience other symptoms like swollen gums, gum tenderness, bright red gums, or in more serious cases, difficultly chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw. You may also have a fever or loss of appetite. Improper oral hygiene can cause gum disease when food gets trapped in areas of the gum. This is why it is incredibly important to practice good brushing and flossing skills every day. It is much easier to consistently brush and floss your teeth than to deal with a more serious medical condition when it arises.
There are a number of reasons you may have dry mouth, including dehydration or dry living areas. But dry mouth might also be caused by medications you may be taking. Dry mouth occurs when your mouth is not producing enough saliva. In addition to causing bad breath, dry mouth can also make it difficult to eat or talk. It also creates a breeding ground for bacteria because the mouth is not properly rinsing and flushing itself. Depending on the cause of your dry mouth, the solution might be as simple as drinking a few glasses of water. If your dry mouth is caused by something else, such as a side effect for medications you need, you may need to see a doctor to discuss other ways to stimulate saliva production with other meds or oral rinses.
Tonsillitis is yet another reason you might be experiencing bad breath and a very common reason for persistent bad breath in children. Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils, and when an infection is present in the mouth, more bacteria will grow. In many cases, the tonsils will need to be removed if the infection cannot be treated. Once the infection is gone, the bad breath should be gone as well. And yes, ice cream can be eaten as seen in every old movie where the tonsils are removed.
Other Causes of Bad Breath
In addition to illness or oral hygiene, there are some lifestyle choices which could be giving you bad breath. If you have persistent bad breath but can’t find the source of the odor, you might want to consider if you are guilty of the following bad-breath causing behaviors.
- Not Drinking Enough Water — If you’re not drinking enough water, you may experience worse breath. Dehydration as discussed previously can allow bacteria and trapped food particles to linger in the mouth, breeding more bacteria and creating an environment for bad breath. Stay hydrated, and if you can’t brush your teeth immediately after eating, drink a few glasses of water to stimulate the process of removing the odors from your mouth and body.
- Smoking and Using Other Tobacco Products — Smoking not only makes your clothes and hair smell bad, but it can also make your breath smell foul. In many cases, the bad breath is caused by nasty smelling smoke, which can be masked by brushing or using mouthwash. But as you continue to use tobacco products, you’re putting your mouth at risk for developing sores and infections that could lead to more severe medical problems that can also cause bad breath.
- Drinking Too Much Coffee — Sometimes coffee is necessary for keeping us awake (and for maintaining our sanity), but it also has a very bitter taste which can be difficult to get off the tongue. Caffeinated teas can make a great substitute for coffee and doesn’t have the same lingering smell, or you can take extra brushing precaution after finishing your cup o’ joe. Be sure to brush the back of your tongue to beat coffee breath.
- Drinking Too Much Alcohol — Although you’re drinking a liquid, alcohol dehydrates you. We’ve already discussed the ways not drinking enough water can make your breath smell, and dehydration associated with too much alcohol can cause bad breath for the same reason. With dry mouth associated with alcohol, it can be difficult to get your saliva flowing properly. It is best to avoid drinking too much booze.
- Using Gum and Breath Mints with Sugar — When you use gum or mints which have sugar in them, you’re only making the bacteria worse. The sugar will stay trapped in and on your teeth, creating a better breeding ground for more bacteria and worse breath. Instead, choose sugar free gum and mints, or use the sugared gum sparingly.
Treating Bad Breath
The way you choose to treat your bad breath will depend on the source of your bad breath. While in almost every case, the odor can be masked by brushing, chewing gum, or using mouthwash, masking will not eliminate the source of the smell. If you want to completely remove the bad breath, you’ll need to figure out the source and take the necessary steps.
If you’re not sure what the cause is, the first step to take in treating your bad breath is to brush and floss your teeth and follow up with a rinse of mouthwash or salt water. Improper oral hygiene is the most common source of bad breath. If this does not help the problem, consider if you have eaten any foul smelling foods.
If the source of your bad breath is not completely apparent, the best way to discover the problem is through using elimination strategies. Continue to practice strong oral hygiene skills multiple times a day, including brushing after every meal. Drink enough water and eliminate tobacco and alcohol from your diet. If you can still not find what is causing your bad breath, you may want to consider seeing your dentist. You may have an underlying condition you are unaware of.
Outside of a medical condition, bad breath can be treated naturally as well. Including things like herbs, probiotics, or more raw foods into your diet can help eliminate bacteria or toxins which are contributing to your halitosis. Foods high in fiber, like apples, can also contribute to removing the odor-causing bacteria from your body. Overall, living a healthier lifestyle can help eliminate persistent bad breath.
Healthy Mouth, Pleasant Breath
Halitosis can be embarrassing, and a lot of the time we aren’t even aware we have it. With the many reasons for its cause, it can be difficult to avoid completely, but there are a number of preventative measures and temporary treatments for persistent bad breath.
If you know you’re going to be in a situation where you’ll be face-to-face with other individuals, avoid eating/drinking smelly foods and beverages. These should be avoided if you have an important event the next day as well, as the odor from foods will linger until your body flushes it out. Because the odor needs to circulate through your bloodstream before it can be completely removed, stay away from smelly foods before big events. Unfortunately, this includes coffee as well. If you can’t brush your teeth immediately after but still need a pick-me-up, grab a cup of tea instead.
If your bad breath is caused by something like smoking or drinking alcohol, consider making a complete lifestyle change. Not only will your mouth be happier and your breath fresher, but the people around you will thank you as well.
Most instances of halitosis can be prevented as long as you find the correct source of the odor. A healthy lifestyle is a great start. Brush your teeth, drink water, or pop some sugar-free gum. These are all great ways to have healthy, fresh breath!