Bad Breath Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

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 odour. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, in over 90% of bad breath cases, the odour originates in the mouth, throat, and tonsils.

The bad breath odour is usually caused by a group of anaerobic, sulfur-producing bacteria that breed beneath the surface of the tongue and often in the throat and tonsil area. These bacteria occur naturally in your oral environment and are supposed to be there because they assist your digestion by breaking down proteins into amino acids. Proteins are commonly found in food, mucus or phlegm, blood and in diseased oral tissue.

As the bad breath bacteria feast on proteins in your mouth, sulfur compounds are released from the back of your tongue and throat. The bacteria excrete waste as hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan and other odourous and bad tasting compounds known as volatile sulfur compounds.  As long as this process of anaerobic bacteria feeding on proteins and excreting volatile sulfur compounds continues unchecked, your breath will become worse and worse.

4 Common Bad Breath Causes

There are many causes of bad breath but there are 4 causes of bad breath that are very common.

  1. Dry mouth - a dry mouth provides a perfect environment for anaerobic bacteria reproduction. Longperiods of speaking, smoking, drinking alcohol and snoring are a few common reasons why people experience dry mouth. Most people experience bad breath in the morning due to lack of saliva production while they sleep. For healthy individuals, food odours are temporary and normal salivary flow will eliminate it within several minutes. However, those who suffer from dry mouth and lack of saliva find that even minor food odours may end up becoming long term bad breath problems.
  2. Foods - Bad breath can be made worse by certain foods such as onions and garlic because they contain smelly sulfur compounds. Dairy, meat and fish contain dense proteins which are used as a food source by the anaerobic, sulfur-producing bacteria that cause bad breath. Refined and processed sugars also provide a food source for bacteria. Coffee and juices can contribute to bad breath because they are acidic and provide the bacteria with an ideal breeding environment.
  3. Poor dental hygiene - Inadequate oral care leads to bacterial buildup on the teeth and gums. This leads to gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis, which can cause halitosis because the proteins from bleeding gums and diseased oral tissue provide fuel to odour-causing bacteria.
  4. Illness and disease - According to studies, in approximately 10% of all cases, bad breath is caused by certain illnesses. Individuals who suffer from diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease, cancer, liver disease, respiratory tract infections or metabolic disorders often experience chronic bad breath due to dry mouth. Sinusitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, post nasal drip and polyps affect the airways and may cause halitosis. Other common illnesses than can cause bad breath include nasal odour, putrefaction from the tonsils, tooth decay, yeast infections of the mouth and gum disease. Certain drugs such as antidepressants, high blood pressure medications and antihistamines can cause bad b reath because they reduce saliva production.

Please Note - Bad breath is rarely associated with life-threatening diseases. However, it is important that you consult your doctor or dentist as soon as you notice consistent white spots on the tonsils and sores in the mouth with or without a fever. Sometimes bad breath is triggered by severe health problems such as throat or mouth cancers, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, digestive system disorders or diabetes. Halitosis can also indicate dehydration or zinc deficiency. Taking proper care of your teeth and visiting the dentist at least twice a year are the easiest ways to avoid breath problems.

Symptoms of Bad Breath

woman with bad breathBad breath is a medical condition that lowers self-esteem and affects everyday life and personal relationships. People with chronic or recurring bad breath often lose their self-confidence. However, it can be difficult to know if you have bad breath. Family members and colleagues may not tell you.

The most common symptoms of bad breath include post-nasal drip, a bitter metallic taste, a white coating on the tongue and thick saliva.

Most symptoms of bad breath depend on the underlying cause of bad breath. Many individuals who suffer from bad breath because of dry mouth can experience difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, a burning sensation in the mouth or dry eyes. Fever, sore throat, persistent cough and swollen lymph nodes in the neck indicate respiratory tract infections which can also mean bad breath.

One of the best ways to find out if you have bad breath is to lick the inside of your wrist, wait five seconds and then take a whiff.

Using a Halimeter® to Diagnose Bad Breath

The Halimeter is the most commonly used clinical diagnostic instrument in the field of Halitosis. It measures the concentration of Hydrogen Sulfide in parts per billion (ppb) in mouth air. The Halimeter (also known as a portable sulfide gas monitor) uses a patented electrochemical voltammetric sensor, providing reproducible results for clinicians for the past 20 years. It has been demonstrated hundreds of times on national and local television by Dr. Harold Katz on programs such as The View, Good Morning America, and CBS Morning News.

Bad Breath Treatment

In most cases bad breath can be successfully treated.  Bad breath treatment depends on its cause.

Please keep in mind that you cannot eliminate the bacteria that cause bad breath from the tongue. Consequently, scraping or brushing the tongue is a temporary solution at best, and is typically frustrating for those who believe tongue scraping or tongue brushing is a permanent solution to bad breath. The bacteria that cause bad breath 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 and clinically-pr oven method to treat bad breath is to interrupt the bacteria’s chemical production of odours by the introduction of oxygenating compounds to your oral environment. Oxygen is lethal to the bacteria that cause bad breath because they are anaerobes and cannot survive or function in the presence of oxygen.

In general, a dentist will recommend mouthwashes and toothpastes that contain oxidizing agents such as chlorine dioxide or sodium chlorite to neutralize volatile sulfur compounds and help control odour causing bacteria found in the mouth.

If you are experiencing dryness in the mouth, your dentist will recommend a saliva substitute to moisten the mouth throughout the day.

Some effective, natural ingredients to look for in oral care products are zinc gluconate, aloe vera, green tea, tea tree oil, xylitol, CoQ10, glycyrrhizic acid and oral probiotics like K12 and M18.

6 Bad Breath Home Remedies

The practice of a few, simple, self-care techniques can help to minimize bad breath. There are several things you can at home to treat bad breath.

  1. Advance oral care products - Use oral care products such as mouthwashes and toothpastes that have been shown to be effective in fighting bad breath.
  2. Proper oral care - Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day.  This helps to remove any food and plaque which can be used as a fuel source by the anaerobic, sulfur-producing bacteria that cause bad breath.
  3. Stimulate your salivary flow - Prevent dry mouth with chewing gum, lozenges, or mints that are sugar free.  Look for Xylitol as a sweetener.  In recent years, Xylitol has been shown to have anti-cavity properties and is a non-sucrose sweetener. 
  4. Eat fibrous fruits and vegetables- One of the best ways to remove bacteria in the mouth is to eat an apple a day.  It helps moisten the mouth, too.
  5. Take a dietary supplement- Take Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin B.  These vitamins are effective at helping your body eliminate excess mucus and toxins naturally.
  6. Brush your teeth occasionally with baking soda – Thebacteria that cause bad breath thrive in an acidic oral environment. Brushing your teeth with baking soda helps neutralize excess acids found in the oral cavity.

12 Easy Ways to Prevent Bad Breath

Please remember, preventing bad breath is always easier than treating it. By developing the right habits, you can be effective at preventing bad breath.

  1. Eat foods rich in fiber - High fiber foods actually help prevent halitosis. Avoid eating heavily processed foods that contain refined carbohydrates such as cookies, cakes, sweets and ice cream.
  2. Use mouthwash - Some mouthwashes or oral rinses are effective at preventing bad breath. However, you should never use alcohol based mouthwashes because the alcohol makes the mouth very dry, which will actually cause bad breath.
  3. Drink green and black teas - They contain polyphenols that help eliminate sulfur compounds and reduce oral bacteria.
  4. Avoid drying medication - Avoid taking antidepressants, diuretics, pain relievers and antihistamines unless it is absolutely, medically necessary. These drugs inhibit saliva flow and cause halitosis.
  5. Avoid products with sodium lauryl sulfate or alcohol - Do not use any oral hygiene products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate or alcohol because the alcohol makes the mouth very dry, which is a leading cause of bad breath. 
  6. Clean your mouth after eating meat, fish or dairy products - Practice consistent and thorough oral hygiene to prevent bad breath. 
  7. Stop smoking - Studies have shown that smokers present a higher risk of developing periodontal disease and bad breath because smoking causes dry mouth which can cause bad breath.
  8. Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth - Try to address any snoring or sleep apnea issues that could be affecting your breath and causing dry mouth.
  9. Drink water - Keep your mouth moist by drinking plenty of water.
  10. Clean your dentures at least once a day - Practice the same, proper oral care that you would with your original teeth. 
  11. Eliminate dairy products from your diet - Bad breath can easily be caused by lactose intolerance.
  12. Use an oral probiotic like S. salivarius K12 and M18 - Use probiotics to balance the oral cavity and prevent an overgrowth of the odour causing bacteria that can cause bad breath.

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