The causes of halitosis, or bad breath, can range from a great spicy lunch to real dental issues. So, how do you know if your unpleasant breath is being caused by the onions on your sandwich or if it warrants a trip to your dentist? And, what are some tips to deal with this smelly problem?
The source of bad breath usually starts with oral hygiene or diet. As we eat, food particles collect along our tongue, gums, and on and in between our teeth. Naturally occurring bacteria in our mouth works to break down this food and releases an odor. If these food particles are not regularly removed through daily brushing and flossing, they promote bacterial growth- another source of those unpleasant smells. Some food choices with particularly strong odors, such as onions and garlic, continue to produce smells through chemicals released even as they are digested, carried through the bloodstream, and exhaled through the lungs.
If you suspect your bout with stinky breath is being caused by one of these offenders, make some changes to your oral hygiene habits. Here are a few tips to beat bad breath:
- Be sure you are brushing your teeth (and tongue!) at least twice a day with a quality, fluoridated toothpaste and a soft bristled toothbrush. If two times isn’t cutting it, pack a travel toothbrush in your purse, pocket or car and take a couple minutes to brush after lunch as well.
- Floss daily. You can’t cheat your way around this one. Flossing removes the stuff that a toothbrush just can’t get to.
- Use mouthwash. A recent study showed that mouthwash is actually a really effective tool to fight the symptoms of bad breath. Swishing with a rinse that contains antibacterial ingredients like chlorhexidine or cetylpyridinium reduces the number of bacteria in your mouth that are causing bad breath. And, mouth washes containing chlorine dioxide or zinc improved the problem by neutralizing smells.
- Chewing gum after meals also helps to fend off bad breath and can even be good for your teeth IF you choose the right products. Sugar free gum helps promote saliva flow- through both through the act of chewing and the flavor of the artificial sweeteners. Increased saliva helps to wash away food particles and neutralize the acids in your mouth. Even better, choose a gum containing xylitol- an ingredient that has been proven to help prevent tooth decay.
- Drink more water. Drinking water helps keep odor under control by rinsing away food particles and bacteria.
- Avoid smoking and other tobacco products. In addition to other serious and adverse health effects tobacco use has on your mouth and body, it’s also a contributor to bad breath. Using tobacco dries out your mouth and also leaves a disagreeable smell that may remain on your breath even after brushing.
- Pick the right foods! Besides just avoiding the garlic and onions, there are foods you can eat that promote good breath. Snacks like crisp, fresh fruit, carrots or celery sticks stimulate saliva production, which, we know from above, helps to keep our mouths cleaner and less acidic. Parsley is also a breath-saver, it contains chlorophyll, which is a known odor neutralizer and breath-deodorizer.
Sometimes, halitosis is caused by more serious conditions. Persistent bad breath that comes with nagging bad taste can be a warning sign of periodontal disease and warrants a visit to a Periodontist. Other dental conditions that are known to cause bad breath are dental caries (cavities), poorly fitting dental appliances, yeast infections of the mouth, and xerostomia (also called dry mouth.) If you've adjusted your oral hygiene routine, implemented the tips listed above and are still struggling with chronic bad breath- be sure to make an appointment with your dentist to discuss your concerns.