Bad breath is one of those things that we’re often reluctant to discuss, either out of politeness or due to a sense of awkwardness. Many of us may suffer from bad breath–also known as halitosis–and not even notice that we have it. That can be unfortunate. In addition to the social stigma attached to bad breath, halitosis may be a sign of an underlying health issue. By understanding what causes bad breath and how to treat it, we’ll actually be taking care of our overall health, not just our social standing.
We should distinguish between short-term bad breath and chronic bad breath. We all have bad breath after too much coffee or garlic-y food. If you’ve just eaten something pungent, bad breath may stick around until you clean your teeth and use mouthwash. If you find yourself with chronic bad breath, it’s time to look for another cause.
So what causes chronic bad breath? It could be a number of things, but here are some of the most common:
- Poor oral hygiene is the top cause of chronic bad breath. If we’re not brushing and flossing enough to remove debris and keep plaque and tartar from forming, bad breath is soon to follow. Regular and effective brushing and cleaning is the best way to prevent this, along with routine exams and cleanings.
- Gum disease and gingivitis may lead to bad breath, as a result of the neglect that comes from poor oral hygiene. As infection forms, it can release some awful smells and tastes in the mouth. If things have gotten to that point it’s time for a visit to the dentist.
- Improper cleaning of dentures or other dental prosthetics can lead to bad breath just as surely as poor care of natural teeth and gums can. Prosthetics that are not properly cared for can become infected with bacteria, fungi, and debris and thus produce bad breath.
- Alcohol and tobacco use, particularly excess, can result in bad breath along with other oral health issues. It’s best to limit them if not avoid them altogether.
- Decaying or damaged teeth can be a source of bad breath as infection sets in. One of the signs of a bad cavity or other tooth decay is a consistent bad smell or taste in the mouth. If you’re experiencing this with no other obvious cause, it’s time to see the dentist.
- b, also known as xerostomia, can be a cause of bad breath as well. When saliva production decreases leaving the mouth dry, it can be a cause of bacterial growth, gum disease, tooth decay, and a host of other problems. If you’re experiencing dry mouth, particularly at night, tell your dentist so they can suggest some solutions.
- Perhaps most importantly, there are a number of health problems that can cause halitosis. Respiratory or sinus infections, acid reflux disease, diabetes, and some intestinal issues can all cause bad breath. In addition, bad breath can be indicative of some forms of cancer, but we should stress that this is rare.
While occasional bad breath is nothing to worry about–just brush your teeth and use some mouthwash–recurring or persistent bad breath can be the sign of larger issues. If your halitosis just won’t go away, it could be time to visit your dentist or doctor for a more detailed look into the cause of the problem.