Halitosis, or chronic bad breath, is a strong, lingering scent emitted from the mouth. Genuine halitosis is an incessant odor that does not go away after brushing, flossing or rinsing.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some possible causes of halitosis include :
- Food – The breakdown of food particles in and around your teeth can increase bacteria and cause a foul odor. Eating certain foods, such as onions, garlic and spices, also can cause bad breath. After you digest these foods, they enter your bloodstream, are carried to your lungs and affect your breath.
- Tobacco products – Smoking causes its own unpleasant mouth odor. Smokers and oral tobacco users are also more likely to have gum disease, another source of bad breath.
- Poor dental hygiene – If you don’t brush and floss daily, food particles remain in your mouth, causing bad breath. A colorless, sticky film of bacteria (plaque) forms on your teeth. If not brushed away, plaque can irritate your gums and eventually form plaque-filled pockets between your teeth and gums (periodontitis). Your tongue also can trap bacteria that produce odors. Dentures that aren’t cleaned regularly or don’t fit properly can harbor odor-causing bacteria and food particles.
- Dry mouth – Saliva helps cleanse your mouth, removing particles that cause bad odors. A condition called dry mouth or xerostomia can contribute to bad breath because production of saliva is decreased. Dry mouth naturally occurs during sleep, leading to “morning breath,” and it worsens if you sleep with your mouth open. Chronic dry mouth can be caused by a problem with your salivary glands and some diseases.
- Medications – Some medications can indirectly produce bad breath by contributing to dry mouth. Others can be broken down in the body to release chemicals that can be carried on your breath.
- Infections in your mouth – Bad breath can be caused by surgical wounds after oral surgery, such as tooth removal, or as a result of tooth decay, gum disease or mouth sores.
- Mouth, nose and throat conditions – Bad breath can occasionally stem from small stones that form in the tonsils and are covered with bacteria that produce odor. Infections or chronic inflammation in the nose, sinuses or throat, which can contribute to postnasal drip, also can cause bad breath.
- Additional causes – Diseases, such as some cancers, and conditions such as metabolic disorders, can cause a distinctive breath odor as a result of chemicals they produce. Chronic reflux of stomach acids (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD) can be associated with bad breath. Bad breath in young children can be caused by a foreign body, such as a piece of food, lodged in a nostril.
Treatments or preventative measures include:
- Proper oral hygiene – Make sure to brush your teeth a minimum of twice a day for two minutes and floss at least once a day. Choose a fluoride toothpaste and a mouthwash that has antibacterial properties.
- Brush your tongue – Brushing your tongue will remove the overgrowth of bacteria build up on the tongue, which will help relieve bad odors. Tongue scrapers, sold by most drugstores in a variety of shapes and sizes, are an effective tool used for bacteria removal.
- Regularly clean dental appliances – Dentures, retainers, or mouth guards should be cleaned thoroughly at least once a day or each time before you put it in your mouth. Ask your dentist for recommended cleaning products.
- Reduce dry mouth – Try to avoid excessive consumption/use of coffee, soft drinks, alcohol and tobacco products, all of which increase dryness in the mouth. Sucking on hard candy or chewing gum (preferably sugar-free) has been known to increase saliva stimulus.
- Be aware of your diet – Eating copious amounts of sugary foods daily will increase the likelihood of having bad breath. Additionally, try to limit the consumption of onion and garlic, two foods that are notorious for causing bad breath.
- Change your toothbrush – According to the Mayo Clinic, you should change your toothbrush about every three to four months, when it becomes frayed. A soft-bristled toothbrush is recommended.
- Schedule regular dental checkups – Make appointments to see your dentist, generally once every six months, for routine teeth cleanings and examinations
If you are still experiencing less than fresh breath, even after following preventative measures, you should contact your dentist. With a proper cleaning and examination, your dentist will help to identify the cause, what your next steps should be, and the proper tools/products you should use.