Temporary bad breath, like morning breath, can simply be due to a dry mouth or something you have eaten (i.e. garlic). True bad breath, known as ‘halitosis’, is an oral health problem that is actually quite common. It is very treatable and preventable. If someone has mentioned to you that the smell of your breath is off putting (not the kindest way to phrase it), it may be worth considering why this is.
The source of the bad smell is usually down to bacteria living in the mouth. Oral bacteria break down any remaining food particles after eating, usually in between and on the surface of teeth, on or in the gums or on the lining of the mouth, for example the rough surface of the tongue. Bacteria also break down sugars from drinks and cells from the lining of the mouth in the saliva, so bacteria is the key issue here. There are different bacteria in everyone’s mouths and the oral bacteria involved in the gum disease process release particularly malodorous gases – some with a sulphuric smell.
Bacterial overgrowth can accumulate to form plaque – unfortunately once it hardens on the tooth’s surface it becomes calculus (commonly known as tartar) which can’t be removed by brushing alone and furthermore continues to attract plaque. Calculus itself doesn’t cause problems, plaque is the main offender for causing issues, however calculus is rough and makes cleaning more difficult because plaque sticks to it more easily than a smooth, clean surface. The positive news is that calculus can be removed by a dentist or hygienist.
Halitosis can be formally diagnosed by the dentist. The dentist will check the entire mouth to see if a cause (such as infection) can be found. The most common feature for someone with true halitosis is gum disease. If no cause is found, they may refer you to a doctor – less frequently bad breath can be due to other health issues.
What you eat and drink can impact breath odour. Ever heard the phrase “they have really bad coffee breath”? Coffee and garlic are two of the most pungent ingredients that can cause bad breath and so keeping intake to a minimum can help to avoid concern of breathing on others. Equally, chewing sugar free gum after eating smelly foods or drinks can help to reduce the intensity of any breath odour by increasing saliva flow, the natural jet wash for your mouth. Aiming to eat healthy foods that make you chew (such as carrots) can keep the saliva flowing and avoid dry mouth (a breeding ground for bad bacteria because they can more readily stick to a dry tooth surface surface than one with saliva flowing readily over it). Alcohol can also be problematic, as a 2018 study found that drinking alcohol is bad for maintaining a healthy balance of microbes, killing off many ‘good’ bacteria and allowing some potentially harmful bacteria to flourish in the mouth due to dehydration.
It’s undoubtedly no surprise, but smoking tobacco is another guilty participant in the bad breath party. Tobacco can often cause dry mouth by cutting down your saliva production and unfortunately bacteria flourishes in a dry mouth, making smokers more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease. Tobacco itself also leaves a strong, unpleasant odour.
Some diseases and medication can also be factors in bad breath, so if you are a pro at managing your dental health and have also cut down on smelly foods and drinks, drinking alcohol or smoking, it could be worth assessing whether these are the culprits. Having a chat with your GP could help to solve any smelly breath issues, whether that’s managing medication or diagnosing and treating a disease.
At Portman Dental Care, we provide a range of solutions to ensure your teeth remain healthy and well. We have a number of care and advice articles to help you whilst you are not in the dentists chair. Find out more below.