The medical term for bad breath is ‘halitosis’. Halitosis is not just an unpleasant smell, but may also be an early warning sign for more serious oral health issues.
What causes bad breath?
The most common cause of bad breath is sulphur-producing bacteria that live on the tongue and throat. Sometimes these bacteria break down proteins at a high rate, releasing volatile sulphur compounds that produce a foul odour.
Other causes of halitosis include:
- Poor oral hygiene habits. If you don’t brush and floss regularly food can stay in your mouth, which leads to more bacterial growth in between the teeth, on the tongue and around the gums (for more information, see “Food traps”).
- Strong-flavoured foods like onions and garlic. The odour will go away when the foods have passed through your body.
- Gum disease (i.e. periodontitis; see “Bleeding or sore gums?”).
- Poorly fitting dental appliances (see “Ill-fitting dentures?”).
- Yeast infections in the mouth.
- Dental cavities (caries).
- Dry mouth (xerostomia). This can be a side effect of medications, salivary gland problems or continuous breathing through the mouth. It can also be caused by alcohol, stress or a medical condition.
- Many other illnesses can cause halitosis, such as respiratory tract infections (pneumonia, bronchitis), chronic sinus infections, diabetes, chronic acid reflux, and even liver or kidney problems.
What should I do when I have bad breath?
You can try to reduce or prevent halitosis by:
- Practicing good oral hygiene: brush your teeth twice a day and don’t forget to brush your tongue as well.
- See your dentist regularly for a check-up. The dentist will conduct an oral exam, clean your teeth and treat any problems that may become the cause of bad breath.
- Don’t smoke tobacco.
- Drink lots of water to keep your mouth moist. Furthermore, (sugarless) chewing gum will stimulate the production of saliva, which can help with washing away bacteria and food particles.
What treatments are available for bad breath?
The treatment will depend on the underlying cause. Some examples are drinking more water, practicing good oral hygiene, introducing mouth washes or tongue brushes, a course of antibiotics or saline nasal spray. Speak to your dentist, doctor or chemist to identify what is causing your bad breath, and what will be the most effective treatment for you.
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