We’re not just talking about morning breath. We don’t mean, “Sorry, I just had onions on my burger!” Everyone has experienced these temporary issues at one time or another.
We are talking about chronic, noticeable bad breath. The kind that makes people step back when talking to you.
Bad breath can affect your social life! More than one in four Americans (26%) say that they decided not to socialize with someone who had bad breath.
Where Does Bad Breath Start?
Bad breath comes out of your mouth, but it does not all come from your mouth. Just under ten percent of cases of bad breath originate somewhere other than your mouth. This includes the nose, throat, lungs and digestive tract. More than ninety percent of bad breath cases start in the mouth.
What Causes Bad Breath?
Bad breath, or halitosis, is typically caused by an overgrowth of bacteria. Certain bacteria like to hang out in stagnant areas, digesting proteins into sulfur compounds. Most people recognize the distinctive rotten egg smell of sulfur. It does not take much of this sulfur product to create bad breath.
There are lots of factors that can result in an overgrowth of bad-smelling bacteria in your mouth. The good news is that most of them are preventable or treatable.
- Untreated cavities – Cavities are a bacterial infection that has penetrated the enamel of the teeth. As they get larger, they develop actual holes in the tooth, which is why we call them “cavities”. These holes collect plaque, bacteria and food debris, which leads to the production of smelly by-products.
- Gum disease – Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is always characterized by an over-accumulation of plaque. Plaque houses the bacteria that cause bad breath. The more plaque buildup you have, the more likely you are to have bad breath. Moderate and severe periodontal disease lead to deep pockets around the teeth, which are perfect hiding spots for collections of the offending bacteria.
- Food impaction – Any small gaps between the teeth or areas of gum recession leading to a “black triangle” usually collect food. This food collection is going to attract bacteria. The longer the food is present, the worse it will smell. If you don’t believe us, smell your floss after removing a piece of food that’s been stuck in your teeth all day . . .
- Dry mouth – Saliva is the body’s best defense against bad bacteria in the mouth. People whose mouth is dry lack the protective benefits of saliva against bad-breath-causing bacteria. Dry mouth is a common side effect of prescription medications. It can also result from autoimmune diseases and cancer radiation therapy to the head and neck. Whatever the cause of dry mouth, the result is a bigger battle with dental disease.
- An abscess or dental infection – In general, infections stink. A dental infection contains particularly bad bacteria that are attracted to dead and dying tissue. Any swellings or pus in your mouth are dangerous situations that need immediate action!
- Infections in the nose, throat or lungs – A less common, but very real, cause of bad breath is the presence of infections in the various parts of the airway. Chronis sinus infections, bronchitis, and other respiratory infections can all cause bad breath from the overgrowth of bacteria they contain. The tonsils are lumps of bumpy tissue at the back of the mouth with lots of “crypts” or hiding places for food and bacteria to collect.
- Gastrointestinal disease – A research study shows that GI infections and gastroesophageal reflux disease are other, often overlooked, causes of bad breath.
What Can You Do About Bad Breath?
As most bad breath cases begin in the mouth, it is important to rule out a dental problem first. The next step is taking great care of your teeth at home and treating any issues you may have with dry mouth. If you have ruled out any dental problems, are keeping your teeth perfectly clean, and do not have problems with dry mouth, then the next course of action is seeing your medical doctor to rule out nose, throat, lung, and GI problems.
Rule Out Dental Problems
Make an appointment with your dentist. If you are overdue for a professional teeth cleaning, schedule that, too. Dr. Ann and Dr. Lauren will perform a thorough evaluation of your teeth and gums. If any dental disease is detected, like cavities, gum disease, or large infections, they will discuss your treatment options. Once all of these problems are treated, you can cross them off your list of possible bad-breath-causers.
Do Your Part at Home
The ball is in your court when it comes to keeping your teeth clean between dental visits. Remove any collected food between the teeth by flossing regularly. Keep the teeth free of plaque by maintaining a consistent oral hygiene routine at home. Brush twice daily and floss every night before bed. Make sure you are using a mouthrinse to flush plaque away from any small hiding spots in your mouth.
Address Dry Mouth Problems
If you have a dry mouth, it is important to be aware of your increased risks of dental disease. You are more likely to develop cavities and gum disease than someone with good salivary flow. You do not have the saliva necessary to counteract the bacteria that lead to bad breath.
Never miss a dental visit, and follow the above recommendations for great oral hygiene at home. In addition, never use a mouthwash containing alcohol. Alcohol is a drying agent, and mouthwash that contains alcohol will actually aggravate your problem of dry mouth.
See Your Medical Doctor
If all of the above factors have been ruled out or treated, and you still struggle with bad breath, it is time to see your medical doctor. Your doctor will evaluate the other possible causes of bad breath: the sinuses, tonsils, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. Treating whatever issues may be present in these areas will help improve your breath.
More Questions about Bad Breath?
Whether you are concerned about bad breath for yourself or a loved one, Dr. Ann and Dr. Lauren can answer all of your questions. They will help you rule out or treat any dental problems that lead to bad breath. Call today to schedule a visit with us!