What causes it?
Bad breaths are common on waking up from sleep, and after eating
strong-smelling foods and spices like onions and garlic. It usually goes away when you clean your teeth, But when this persists throughout the day, it becomes a medical condition sometimes called halitosis. It’s usually caused by gum disease or bacteria on your tongue which give off bad-smelling gases.
Bad breath is commoner in smokers, those with poor dental hygiene, and those who for some reason don’t produce enough saliva. It may also be due to anxiety (where halitosis is more apparent to the patient than real) and rarer causes like lung and oesophageal (gullet) diseases.
How do you find out?
Bad breath is usually rather noticed by people around when you talk or breathe out, because you get used to your own smell. If you worry you may have bad
breath, you could ask a trusted friend, or visit a dentist. You could also try to have an idea of what your breath smells like by licking your wrist, and smelling it when it has dried.
If the dentist can’t find any problems with your teeth, gums or tongue, but still believes you have a bad breath, they may refer you to a doctor to exclude other medical conditions that may give bad breath.
What treatments work?
The treatment depends on the cause of the bad breath. If the source is your mouth, there are quite a number of things that could be done. Treating the other sources outside the mouth usually takes care of the bad breath.
Things you can do for yourself
Generally improving your oral hygiene may help to take care of bad breath to a large extent. Helpful tips for this include:
• Brushing your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
• Flossing between your teeth once a day
• Removing dentures at night and cleaning them thoroughly before putting them back in
• Having regular dental check-ups
• Stopping smoking
• Brushing shortly after strong-smelling food
• Chewing sugar-free gum
• Drinking plenty of water
• Using tablets or a spray designed to fight bad breath.
Medicated mouthwash is likely to improve your breath if you use them properly. It starts working immediately, but the effects also fade off the way they came. So you will need to use it for about three weeks to really see a lasting improvement. Tongue cleaners, zinc-containing toothpastes, and artificial saliva products can be tried out too, but their effectiveness haven’t been well established.
Treating gum disease
A dentist will help you get rid of any gum disease that may be causing your bad breath. Mild gum disease (gingivitis) is usually taken care of by cleaning and flossing your teeth thoroughly every day. The dentist may also scrape plaque from your teeth. If your gum disease is more advanced (periodontitis) you may need more complicated treatments depending on what your dentist feels is best.
Some medicines can be used to treat gum disease. You may also need to use a mouthwash containing a chemical that kills bacteria. Antibiotics like doxycycline and metronidazole may also be used for more difficult gum disease.
What will happen to me?
In most situations, bad breath usually goes away with proper oral hygiene alone. But if this doesn’t help, the dentist then may have to do something about it. You may need only reassurance if he doesn’t think your breath really smells bad, or he may refer you to a doctor for further evaluation if he is not able to treat a truly bad breath. You may have to see a psychiatrist if you still feel anxious after being reassured.