It’s hard to talk about, but that doesn’t mean people can afford to ignore it. A common condition, halitosis, also known as bad breath, affects an estimated 25% of people (1). Along with causing worry and embarrassment, bad breath can point to more serious issues, including tooth decay, gum disease and even underlying troubles. To that end, it’s crucial that patients suffering from halitosis visit a dentist for evaluation and care.
The good news is that bad breath is highly treatable. Once a dentist identifies the underlying cause of your condition, they can recommend a treatment plan designed to alleviate your condition and, if necessary, help restore your oral health. Keep reading to discover what to do about bad breath and how you keep your teeth and gums healthy.
There are several causes of bad breath, but poor oral hygiene is among the most common culprits of this condition. When we eat, food particles can become trapped in the tonsils, gums and surface of the tongue (2). Over time, a layer of bacteria known as plaque can form on the teeth. If not removed with proper brushing and flossing, plaque leads to inflammation and may result in a condition called periodontitis.
Also known as gum disease, periodontitis is a type of infection that damages the soft tissue and bones of the jaw. People with periodontitis may lose their teeth or go on to suffer more serious conditions, including heart disease, respiratory disease and rheumatoid arthritis (3). Practicing proper dental hygiene and visiting your dentist regularly for cleanings can help protect your breath and health in the years to come. You can also fight off halitosis by paying closer attention to what’s going into your body.
You probably know that pungent foods like onions and garlic are known to cause halitosis. Once digested, the breakdown of these foods is carried through the blood into the lungs, where they can lead to bad breath. However, you might not realize that high-protein foods can be equally problematic. Typically tough to digest, these foods may release sulfurous gases when they don’t metabolize (4). The end result is often bad breath.
Additionally, halitosis can be caused by what you aren’t eating. Aside from being a crucial part of a healthy diet, complex carbohydrates help keep your breath fresh. If you want to fight off halitosis, be sure to consume plenty of healthy carbs and fresh vegetables on a daily basis.
Dehydration doesn’t just put you at risk of serious conditions like kidney problems and seizures (5). It can also affect your breath. If you aren’t drinking enough water, your body produces less saliva. The result is that more bacteria grows in your mouth, potentially leading to halitosis. For most healthy people, thirst provides an accurate guide for when it’s time to drink.
Many people find the flavor of cigarettes to be distasteful on its own. However, tobacco can also raise your risk of suffering from gum disease. As a result, smokers may be more likely to suffer from persistent bad breath.
A number of medications are known to cause both dry mouth and bad breath. Antihistamines reduce saliva and may contribute to the development of halitosis. Additionally, various prescription medications release chemicals that can be transported through the bloodstream to the lungs, leading to unpleasant breath (6).
Although rare, halitosis can result from more serious illness. Certain cancers and metabolic diseases can produce a mixture of chemicals that lead to halitosis (7). Additionally, individuals suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can experience bad breath due to stomach acid regularly washing up into the esophagus.
Bad breath is never pleasant. However, the type of halitosis you’re experiencing may help you and your dentist determine the cause of your condition and identify the best way of treating it.
One of the most common types of halitosis, morning breath is relatively common. After all, the decrease in saliva production during sleep allows bacteria to grow at a faster rate during the night. However, if you find your breath to be particularly potent first thing in the morning, you might be suffering from sleep apnea (8).
A potentially serious condition that causes people to breathe through their mouths rather than their noses, sleep apnea may result in snoring and bad breath among other negative consequences. Making lifestyle changes or using a CPAP machine while you sleep can help alleviate this condition while improving your breath.
If your bad breath has a sweet or fruity odor to it, the problem might not be your oral hygiene but your blood sugar. In fact, patients with undiagnosed or badly managed diabetes are more likely to develop dry mouth and gum disease, both of which can contribute to halitosis (9). If your breath has a sweet flavor or smells like acetone (the substance found in nail polish remover), you might want to talk to your doctor about getting tested for diabetes.
The kidneys play a crucial role in removing waste from the body. However, when kidneys are damaged or diseased, the body is unable to filter out toxic chemicals through the urine. The resulting buildup of waste can result in a fishy odor to the breath. If you’re experiencing this symptom, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention.
The good news is that for most patients, treating bad breath is relatively easy. Here are some ways to naturally freshen your breath while safeguarding your oral health:
Most of us grew up hearing that we should brush our teeth twice a day. However, if you want to fight halitosis, you should aim to brush after every meal. If you smoke or suffer from dry mouth, you should also brush your tongue with a tongue scraper. Doing this removes food particles and dead cells, thereby keeping your breath fresh.
It’s not enough to brush your teeth two to three times daily. In fact, experts note that brushing only cleans about 60 percent of the tooth’s surface (10). If you want to fight bad breath and protect your oral hygiene, make sure to floss your teeth regularly. For best results, slide the floss up and down between your teeth, taking care to work it beneath the gum line.
Alcohol, coffee and tobacco are known to dehydrate the body and dry out the mouth. If you’re suffering from persistent halitosis, try to reduce your consumption of these substances. Instead, drink plenty of water and eat hydrating foods like melons. You can also stimulate saliva production and fight bad breath by chewing sugar-free gum.
If you wear dentures or a mouth guard, it’s important to clean it on a daily basis. Otherwise, bacteria is likely to build up on these inserts and cause unpleasant odors.
If underlying health issues aren’t to blame for your halitosis, you may want to consider one of the many home remedies for bad breath.
Anecdotal reports reveal that pineapple juice can be effective at sweetening bad breath fast (11). If you’re worried that your breath is less than fresh, considering drinking pineapple juice after a meal or even eating some fresh pineapple. For best results, brush your teeth or rinse your mouth with water afterwards so the sugar doesn’t damage your teeth.
Yogurt has long been known to aid in digestion. However, research shows that this food can also help fight bad breath. In fact, in a six-week study, 80 percent of participants saw their bad breath improve after consuming yogurt (12). Oral probiotics can also be useful in battling halitosis. According to another study, 85 percent of people who took oral probiotics had less bad-breath causing bacteria (13).
Many mouthwashes and chewing gums contain zinc salts, so it’s unsurprising that zinc is a popular remedy for bad breath (14). If you want to avoid halitosis, think about adding a zinc supplement to your daily vitamin regimen.
Occasional bad breath is normal and unlikely to be cause for concern. However, if your halitosis is persistent, it is likely the result of poor oral hygiene or other lifestyle factors. Still, that doesn’t mean you should ignore this issue and hope it goes away. Along with being a source of embarrassment, bad breath can signify more serious underlying issues, including tooth decay and gum disease. If you’re suffering from chronic bad breath, don’t wait to see a dentist for evaluation.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to alleviate bad breath and preserve the health of your teeth and gums. Along with brushing and flossing teeth a minimum of twice a day, halitosis sufferers should strive to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol, tobacco and pungent foods like onion. You may also want to consider adding pineapple juice, yogurt or zinc to your diet. By staying conscious of your breath, you can preserve your gum health and reduce your odds of developing inflammation-related conditions like heart disease in the coming years.
April Maguire - Contributing Writer, Physician’s Choice