Bad Breath

1. What is Bad Breath?

Bad breath, which is also called halitosis, is an embarrassing health condition that affects approximately 30% of people around the world. It is associated with a foul oral odor (Volatile Sulfur Compounds), usually created by a group of anaerobic sulfur-producing bacteria, that breed beneath the surface of the tongue and often in the throat and tonsil area. Temporary oral malodor may also be caused by certain foods which are naturally odor-producing. Generally speaking, for healthy individuals, food odors are transitory, and normal salivary flow will eliminate it within several minutes. However, for those who suffer with dry mouth and consequently, lack of saliva, even minor food odors may end up becoming long term bad breath problems.

According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), in over 90% of bad breath cases, the odor originates in the mouth, throat, and tonsils (if present).  The only scientifically proven and clinically effective method of halting halitosis is by attacking the bacteria's ability to produce Volatile Sulfur Compounds (VSCs) and by converting the VSCs into non-odorous and non-tasting organic salts. Simply put, the rate at which bacteria digest protein and excrete waste has to be slowed, and the waste that is produced has to be neutralized. Halitosis may also indicate other health related issues related to the gastrointestinal tract, throat, tonsils, liver, lungs, or kidneys. Please continue reading this guide to learn more about bad breath causes, treatment and prevention.

2. Bad Breath Causes

There are many bad breath causes, with the primary cause being the build-up in odor-producing bacteria and food particles in the oral cavity. Its density differs during the day. Certain foods and health conditions may magnify bad breath. Bad breath can also result from poor dental health habits. There are millions of filaments (papillae) on the tongue that trap food particles, creating a nexus of odor-causing bacteria and available food particles beneath the surface of the tongue. That is why brushing your tongue, as well as teeth, is so important. Most chewing gums and mints only mask bad odor.

Please keep in mind that one cannot remove these bacteria from the tongue. Consequently, scraping or brushing the tongue is a temporary solution at best, and is typically frustrating for most who believe “tongue scraping or tongue brushing” is a permanent solution to bad breath. These bacteria are actually part of your normal oral flora and need to be present in order to break down proteins as a key step in proper digestion. A much simpler clinically-proven concept is to interrupt the chemical production of odors at this crucial point by the introduction of oxygenating compounds. This is because the bacteria that cause the problem are anaerobes (which mean they cannot survive and function in the presence of oxygen).

As a condition, bad breath can be made worse by certain foods such as onions and garlic (which already contain smelly sulfur compounds), cheese, meat, and fish (which contain dense proteins used as a sulfur source by the anaerobic sulfur-producing bacteria) and coffee (acidic, and becomes worse with sugar and milk). Chewing tobacco-based products or smoking affects oral hygiene (makes the mouth very dry losing saliva) and causes bad breath. Poor dental hygiene leads to bacterial buildup on the teeth and gums, leading to gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis), which may also cause halitosis (proteins from bleeding gums provide fuel to odor-causing bacteria). Individuals who suffer from diabetes, lung disease or kidney disease often experience chronic bad breath, often due to dry mouth. Respiratory tract infections are often linked to halitosis. Certain drugs, such as antidepressants, high blood pressure medications, and antihistamines can cause bad breath as well because they reduce saliva production.

Most people experience bad breath in the morning due to lack of saliva production while they sleep. This process is perfectly normal and does not indicate any serious health condition. That’s why it’s important to always eat something in the morning to “kick start” your saliva production as a natural way to freshen your breath. Those who skip breakfast tend to have “morning breath” until they eat something. Individuals who have problems with their salivary glands or take certain medications for treating high blood pressure or urinary problems are often diagnosed with chronic dry mouth. Bad breath also affects people suffering from kidney or liver failure, metabolic disorders and cancer and radiation therapy.

Fruity breath usually indicates diabetes. Renal infections, some carcinomas and metabolic dysfunction may cause foul breath odor. Herpes simplex and HPV are sometimes associated with halitosis as well. According to studies, in approximately 10% of all cases, bad breath is caused by certain illnesses. Sinusitis, pneumonia, bronchitis and polyps affect the airways and may cause halitosis.

Other common factors responsible for bad breath include nasal odor, putrefaction from the tonsils and Zenker's diverticulum. Dental caries, yeast infections of the mouth and gum disease are some of the main dental causes of halitosis. Bad breath is often triggered by malformations of the oral-nasal cavity or foreign bodies lodged in a nostril. A partially erupted wisdom tooth can cause bad breath. Because halitosis can indicate a more serious problem, it is important to visit your dentist if bad breath persists.

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