Millions of Americans suffer from halitosis, or chronic bad breath. Halitosis is even estimated to affect as many as 1 in 4 people. It’s no wonder we spend billions each year on breath-freshening mints, gums, toothpastes, and mouthwashes. But what is halitosis, and what are the common causes of it?
What is halitosis?
Halitosis, commonly referred to as bad breath, is the process by which the breakdown of bacteria and food particles produces sulphuric compounds that can cause foul or odiferous odors. While halitosis can be a source of embarrassment or anxiety, it’s often a result of bad hygiene rather than a serious complication. If you’re worried your halitosis could be a sign of a serious problem, it’s a good idea to schedule a checkup with your dentist. He or she can determine whether or not your halitosis is the result of poor hygiene habits or a much more serious health complication.
What causes bad breath?
Leftover Food Particles
One of the main culprits of halitosis is the buildup of leftover food particles. In addition to foods that naturally cause bad breath, leftover food particles can cause bacteria to grow in and around teeth. A buildup of bacteria can itself emit odiferous breath, but the sulphuric compounds released when food particles are broken down can lead to noticeably foul-smelling breath.
Tobacco is another leading cause of bad breath, as tobacco products themselves often have unpleasant odors. Tobacco use can also lead to gum disease, which can also cause halitosis.
Believe it or not, the newest diet trends and fad fitness tips can lead to bad breath. Low-carb diets, particularly ketogenic diets, can lead to foul-smelling breath as the body breaks down fat particles, so while you may be shedding the pounds, you might want to consider upping your oral hygiene game.
Some medications, such as chemotherapy treatments, nitrates, tranquilizers, and even a few vitamins, can cause bad breath. Flossing, brushing, and staying hydrated can help deter foul odors.
Serious Health Complications
Some health conditions like diabetes and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can lead to foul-smelling breath if health is not monitored and controlled. When diabetics are experiencing high blood sugars as a result of a lack of insulin, their bodies begin to break down fat and tissue to be used for energy. This process, known as ketoacidosis, can produce a foul-smelling odor.
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How do I get rid of bad breath?
Getting fresh breath is much easier than consuming 500 Tic Tacs per day. Here are 5 easy steps to fresh breath.
1. Daily Brushing and Flossing
Brushing and flossing after meals can prevent bad breath caused by leftover food particles, and it can also prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar, which lead to the buildup of bacteria that can also produce odiferous breath. Since bacteria can also build up on the tongue, daily brushing can help reduce bad breath. If your bad breath is noticeable or it causes you embarrassment or anxiety, consider investing in a travel-sized toothbrush, carrying case, and on-the-go toothpaste kit to brush after meals. Many drug stores and pharmacies also carry travel-friendly mouthwash you can store in your purse, in the car, or at the office.
2. Avoid Problem Foods
If you’re feeling plagued by halitosis, avoiding certain foods can reduce odiferous breath. Foods that are known to cause bad breath include:
Onions are every food lover’s worst nightmare. The next time you’re tempted to chow down on an onion-heavy dish, remember that your bad breath will be around to haunt you long after the meal is over.
Garlic will keep vampires and everyone else at bay thanks to the allyl methyl sulfide produced during the breakdown of the food. Since allyl methyl sulfide is the only sulphuric compound that cannot be broken down in the digestive tract, it’s often forced back to the oral region, where you and anyone you come in contact with are at risk of experiencing the aftermath.
Many spicy foods contain added ingredients and flavors that, while delicious and sometimes nutritious, can lead to post-meal bad breath. In addition to onions and garlic, curry-flavored dishes are a common culprit.
Coffee and Tea
It’s true - your favorite morning, or afternoon, beverage may be the source of your bad breath. Coffee and tea can dry out the mouth, where bacteria can thrive and leftover food particles can hide.
Indulging in a tuna fish sandwich or even a delicious slice of salmon can also cause bad breath. This is due to the trimethylamine produced when fish is broken down in the digestive tract. Often, brushing and flossing can reduce or relieve bad breath caused by trimethylamine.
3. Stay Hydrated
Since dry mouth can attract bacteria and exacerbate the symptoms of halitosis, staying hydrated can keep bad breath at bay. Drinking water can also help remove leftover food particles that can cause bad breath. According to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, women should aim for at least 90 ounces of fluids per day, and men should aim for at least 124, more than twice the often-cited 64 ounces of fluids needed to prevent hydration. In addition to keeping bad breath at bay, staying hydrated can:
- Prevent damage to cells and sensitive tissues
- Regulate body temperature
- Remove unwanted waste through urination and sweating
- Keep joints lubricated
4. Mouthwash for Bad Breath
Since bad breath affects around 25% of the population, it’s good to know that many companies have created products specifically intended to target halitosis. A few of the most popular offerings include:
Therabreath is a dentist-formulated mouthwash some users find effective in preventing bad breath. While on the more expensive end of the drugstore mouthwash range at around $12 per bottle, Therabreath is considered one of the most effective over-the-counter halitosis treatments.
SmartMouth alcohol-free mouthwash is a great option for anyone looking for an affordable over-the-counter solution for bad breath. The clinically-tested formula was created by a doctor, and the zinc-ion technology works to prevent the creation of sulphuric compounds known to cause bad breath. Most users found the solution to be effective at treating and preventing bad breath.
5. Regular Dental Checkups
Did you know making and keeping regular dental checkups can prevent bad breath? When plaque and tartar build up on your teeth, it creates a prime breeding ground for bacteria to thrive. When you visit your dentist for regular cleanings, your dental hygienist will remove built-up plaque and tartar from the surface of your teeth, even in the hard-to-read places between and behind teeth.
Maintaining good oral hygiene habits, including daily brushing, flossing, and rinsing, in addition to making regular dental checkups and cleanings to prevent periodontal disease and cavities, can be the difference between fresh breath and foul breath. Is it time to schedule your routine dental checkup and cleaning? Dr. Miles Moore and the team at Memphis Center for Family & Cosmetic Dentistry are here to help keep your beautiful smile happy and healthy.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Miles Moore of Memphis Center for Family and Cosmetic Dentistry. Dr. Moore is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantologists who has received extensive training in implant dentistry. He is a member of multiple dental organizations, including the American Dental Association, the American Academy of General Dentistry, the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and the Memphis Dental Society.