The most common causes of bad breath and how to avoid it

Medically it is called as ‘Halitosis.’ It is one of the most common complaints or queries we come across as dentists. It is a source for anxiety and makes people feel socially handicapped. The store shelves are always overflowing with breath mints, breath improving rinses or fancy toothpastes – no surprise there! But these are temporary measures and does not provide a permanent solution. In this article, you will read more about the causes and solution to this dilemma.

Sometimes, a person may have bad breath but does not know about it. Since, it is difficult to self-assess your own breath, ask a close friend or relative to confirm your bad-breath questions.

Although plenty reasons have been cited as the cause for bad breath, the science behind the understanding of this situation is weak. Most common causes put forth are:

  1. Presence of calculus and plaque
  2. Gum diseases
  3. Presence of coating on the tongue (tongue coating usually includes bacteria, desquamated cells and saliva among others).
  4. Smoking/using tobacco products in chewable form.
  5. Dental caries/tooth decay
  6. Ear-nose-throat problems such as tonsillitis, sinusitis, the presence of out-of-body material and rhinitis.
  7. Gastrointestinal issues/gastritis.
  8. Intestinal obstruction. But in that case, along with bad mouth odour, it is accompanied by decreased appetite, abdominal swelling, severe bloating, nausea or diarrhoea/constipation.
  9. Dry mouth
  10. Stressful situations also might contribute to increase bad breath.
  11. Having excessive caffeine.
  12. Uncontrolled diabetes.
  13. Certain diet fads/starvation.
  14. Very rarely, due to underlying medical condition such as liver failure or ketoacidosis.

In children, the causes can be slightly different. It is usually due to decayed tooth or poor oral hygiene. As alarming as it sounds, in children, bad breath can be caused by a foreign body, such as a piece of food lodged in a nostril.

It is interesting to note that there is a condition called as ‘halitophobia. It is a paradoxical situation where people assume they have bad breath when infact they don’t. If halitophobia is suspected, a psychologist’s or psychiatrist’s consultation is warranted.

If you notice your breath has been less than fresh lately, start by following a healthy daily dental routine –

  1. Brushing your teeth twice daily for at least two minutes with a fluoridated toothpaste.
  2. Cleaning in-between the teeth twice a day using dental floss.
  3. Regularly cleaning the surface of the tongue with a soft bristled toothbrush.
  4. Mouthrinses, especially Chlorhexidine have been effective in reducing bad breath.
  5. Drinking plenty of water.
  6. Chewing sugarless gum as it increases salivary flow.
  7. Cutting back on caffeine may also help get your saliva flowing, and in turn prevent malodour.
  8. An at home method to freshen your breath instantly (albeit temporarily) is to use a warm saline mouth rinse. Simply add some salt to a glass of warm water, mix it well, swish the solution around your mouth and teeth for 30 seconds and repeat.
  9. And of course not to mention, professional dental cleaning (oral prophylaxis) every 6 to 8 months to remove the plaque and calculus on the teeth, which can very much contribute to foul odour.

If you notice your bad breath persists, check in with your dentist. Together, you can track down what the cause may be. With proper dental cleaning and examination of your oral cavity, your dentist can help rule out any oral health problems and advise you on the next step.

You may need to visit a gastroenterologist, physician or an ENT doctor to further rule out other systemic ailments. Halitosis is a common problem impacting individuals at all ages. It shouldn’t be embarrassing. Prompt attention to the issue goes a long way in eliminating unwanted worry and stress.

Until next time, stay safe, take care and God bless you !

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