By Brian J. Gray, DDS, MAGD, FICO
Bad breath, or halitosis, is a signal that something is not right inside your mouth. It may be as simple as the need to pay more attention to your daily oral hygiene, or it may indicate tooth decay, gum disease, or another medical or dental health problem. Whichever it is, bad breath is a red flag: take another look at your mouth!
Commercial products claim they will make your breath fresher, but the only way to make sure your breath permanently fresh is to practice good oral hygiene. In fact, too many breath mints and hard candies with sugar will lead to tooth decay. If you are constantly using breath mints, breath sprays, or mouthrinses in an effort to cover up your bad breath, realize that you may have a medical or dental care problem that needs addressing.
There are a number of reasons you may experience a bad taste in your mouth, and even be able to smell your own breath. Food may be lodged between your teeth if you are not brushing at least twice daily and flossing regularly. Food particles can be very tiny and can wedge themselves between teeth and below the gum line.
Brushing after meals is important and flossing is imperative to get at the particles that the brush can't reach. Brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper, even if it feels odd at first. Bacteria collects on the tongue and can contribute to bad breath. If you wear removable dentures, take them out at night and clean them thoroughly before you wear them again.
If you neglect your daily hygiene over time, bad breath can become a symptom of more serious dental health problems. Teeth that are not cleaned properly become a place for bacteria to reside as food particles stay in your mouth and decay. Bacteria attack your teeth and gums and cause cavities and gum disease. If this is happening, gum disease will cause an unpleasant odor.
If you are brushing and flossing on a regular basis, but are still experiencing bad breath, you may have teeth that are crooked or crowded, and it may be hard for you to clean between them. If you wear dentures that do not fit properly, they may be trapping food or irritating your mouth. Your bad breath is may be caused by another medical problem: drainage from your sinuses, gastrointestinal problems, kidney or liver problems, or other medical conditions.
Here's what you can do to investigate on your own. Write down what you're eating and notice whether your breath smells bad because of certain foods. Garlic and onions actually cause odor, but the odor is coming from your lungs as you breathe, not from your mouth itself. The odor from these foods is temporary, and will be gone once the food is out of your bloodstream.
Are you dieting? Hunger can contribute to bad breath, because of the chemical changes as your body turns fat and protein into the energy it needs. Are you taking prescription or over-the-counter medications? Add these to the record of what you're eating to see whether there's a relationship between your medications and your bad breath. And don't forget to tell your dentist if there's been a change in your overall health since your last visit.
Are you suffering from dry mouth? Saliva provides constant rinsing in your mouth and washes away food particles. Your dentist may recommend more liquids, or sugarless candy to stimulate natural saliva, and perhaps some of the commercial products that are available to combat dry mouth.
If bad breath continues after you have done your best job of regular brushing and flossing, go see your dental care professional. He or she can tell you whether the odor is caused by an oral problem; if it is not, then your dentist will suggest you see your doctor for a physical check-up.
Regular dental check-ups with a dentistry professional will help keep your mouth healthy and working well. Your dentist can stop problems before they cause trouble, including problems that cause bad breath.