Bad Breath & Halitosis

About Bad Breath & Halitosis

Bad breath has been a persistent problem for more people than you’d like to think. It is estimated that sixty-five percent of Americans have bad breath. In the case of "chronic halitosis," over forty-million Americans have this problem, which causes persistent bad breath. The surprising news is that 90 percent of all halitosis is of oral, not systemic, origin.

There is more than $1 billion spent every year on over-the-counter products that claim to eliminate halitosis. Most of these products, however, are ineffective and only temporarily mask the issue.

What’s the cause of bad breath?

It’s caused by a number of underlying factors. Food is one of the biggest culprits. When it remains in the mouth on your teeth, tongue, gums, and other structures, it collects bacteria. Those dead and dying bacterial cells will release a sulfur compound and it’s that byproduct that gives your breath an unpleasant odor. Some of the biggest offenders are garlic and onions. After the food is absorbed into your bloodstream, it’s then transferred to the lungs. At that point, it is exhaled. When you brush, floss or use mouthwash, they only disguise the odor for a short while. Dieters that are fasting can also develop bad breath.

There’s no question that periodontal (gum) disease can cause bad breath or it will leave a bad taste in your mouth. Persistent bad breath could be a sign that you have gum disease.

Gum disease is a result of plaque. This is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that is constantly forming on your teeth. Bad breath can also be caused by xerostomia, or dry mouth, which is a result of decreased salivary flow. Saliva is a cleansing agent that removes food particles that may cause odor. Tobacco products are also notorious for giving you bad breath. These products also stain teeth, reduce your ability to taste foods, and they irritate your gum tissues. There are times bad breath could be an indication of a serious health problem. That problem could include a respiratory tract infection, chronic sinusitis, postnasal drip, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, a gastrointestinal disturbance, a liver or kidney ailment.

Here are the bad breath odors one experiences with some of these illnesses:

  • Diabetes - acetone, fruity
  • Liver failure - sweetish, musty
  • Acute rheumatic fever - acid, sweet
  • Lung abscess - foul, putrefactive
  • Blood dyscrasias - resembling decomposed blood
  • Liver cirrhosis - resembling decayed blood
  • Uremia - ammonia or urine
  • Hand-Schuller-Christian disease - fetid breath and unpleasant taste
  • Scurvy - foul breath from stomach inflammation
  • Wegner's granulomatosis - Necrotic, putrefactive
  • Kidney failure - ammonia or urine
  • Diphtheria, dysentery, measles, pneumonia, scarlet fever, tuberculosis - extremely foul, fetid odor
  • Syphilis - fetid

If you are taking central nervous system agents, anti-Parkinson drugs, anti-psychotics, antihistamines/decongestants, cholinergics, narcotics, anti-hypertensives, or anti-depressants, these could cause bad breath to develop.

Caring for bad breath

In most cases, if you brush and floss daily and receive regular professional cleanings, this will usually take care of unpleasant breath. Never forget your often overlooked tongue as something causing your bad breath. The back of your tongue is the perfect spot for bacterial plaque and food debris to accumulate. Because the tongue's surface is uneven, contains indentations and has a rough surface area where bacteria can accumulate in the cracks and crevices.

If you maintain good oral health and avoid periodontal disease, you should have no problem with bad breath. If bad breath is a reoccurring problem, you should go about making a list of the foods you eat and any medications you take. You might find some of your medications may contribute to bad breath.

If you don’t clean your dentures properly, they might be responsible for harboring odor-causing bacteria or food particles. If your dentures are removable, be sure to take them out at night. Afterwards, clean them thoroughly before replacing them.

Following an oral examination, your dentist may conclude that there’s nothing wrong with your mouth, so the odor is not oral in nature. At that point, you may be referred to your family physician or to a specialist. He or she can hopefully determine the cause of the odor and suggest a possible treatment. Should the odor be a result of gum disease, your dentist will either treat it or refer you to a Periodontist, which is a specialist that’s trained in treating gum tissues. Gum disease may cause gum tissues to pull away from the teeth. In the process, this forms pockets. If the pockets are deep, you’ll need a professional periodontal cleaning. This can remove the accumulating bacteria and plaque.

In almost all cases, mouthwashes are not effective on bad breath. If your bad breath continues even though you have good oral hygiene, your dentist may prescribe special products, including Zytex. This product is a combination of zinc chloride, thymol and eucalyptus oil. These ingredients neutralize the sulfur compounds and kills the bacteria that’s responsible for them. In addition, a special antimicrobial mouth rinse may be prescribed. Chlorhexidine is quite effective. Be careful, however, not to use it for more than a few months for extended use can stain your teeth. There are also some antiseptic mouth rinses accepted by the American Dental Association. Their breath freshening properties and their therapeutic benefits go a long way toward reducing plaque and gingivitis.

Don’t mask breath odor. Ask your dentist about trying some of these products.