Bad breath or more commonly known as halitosis is a common problem
which often results from bacteria in the mouth. This page will look at the
causes and what your dentist can do to help with your halitosis.
Is bad breath always treatable?
In the past, bad breath was often considered to be an incurable
affliction. However, in recent years it has become increasingly
evident that bad breath is usually treatable once a proper diagnosis
is made. The main problem is knowing whether we have it or not,
because we are poor judges of our own breath odor. Some people suffer
from bad breath without knowing it, while others build up exaggerated
fears about breath odor even though they do not have it. The best way
to find out whether we have bad breath is to ask for someone else's
opinion. If we don't ask, other people are unlikely to tell us. And
since bad breath can sometimes - fortunately rarely - be a sign of a
significant general health problem, we should not be reluctant to tell
people dear to us that they have a bad breath problem.
If your dentist determines that your mouth is
healthy and that the odor is not of oral origin, you
may be referred to your family physician or to a
specialist to determine the cause of the odor and for
treatment. Of course, if the odor is of oral origin,
as it is in the majority of cases, your dentist can
treat the cause of the problem.
If the odor is due to gum disease, your general
dentist can either treat the disease or refer you to a
periodontist, a specialist in treating gum tissues.
Gum disease can cause gum tissues to pull away from
the teeth and form pockets. When these pockets are
deep, only a professional periodontal cleaning can
remove the bacteria and plaque that accumulate.
Sometimes more extensive treatment is necessary.
If you have extensive build-up of plaque, an
invisible layer of bacteria, your dentist may
recommend using a special antimicrobial mouthrinse.
Your dentist may also recommend that when you brush
your teeth, you also brush your tongue to remove
What should I do if I have bad breath?
Regular checkups will allow your dentist to detect
any problems such as gum disease, a dry mouth or other
disorders that may be the cause. Maintaining good oral
hygiene, eliminating gum disease and scheduling
regular professional cleanings are essential to
reducing bad breath.
Regardless of what may be the cause, good oral
hygiene is essential. Brush twice a day and clean
between your teeth daily with floss or interdental
cleaners. Brush your tongue, too. If you wear
dentures, be sure to remove them at night and clean
them thoroughly before replacing them the next
What are some of the causes of bad breath?
Bad breath can be caused by such things as certain foods,
poor oral hygiene, gum disease, a dry mouth (xerostomia),
tobacco products or a medical disorder. When bacteria
accumulate because of poor oral hygiene or gum disease, or
when saliva is lacking, bad breath can result. Saliva is
necessary to wash away food particles and bacteria.
Certain medications and disorders can lead to a dry mouth.The
tongue has small ridges and grooves on the surface which
can trap food, plaque and bacteria. If these grooves are
not cleaned regularly with a tongue cleaner or a tooth
brush, they can cause a foul odor. The back of the tongue
is an especially critical area to keep clean.
Sometimes a sinus infection, postnasal drip or other
respiratory tract infection can cause bad breath. If bad
breath is persistent, contact your dentist to determine
whether the cause is of dental origin.
Gum disease if left
untreated can also be a major cause of bad breath. Tarter
builds up around the teeth in gum disease and causes a
foul odor to be emitted. Teeth that are decayed emit foul
odors. The decay process is caused by bacteria eating away
the tooth structure. The gases and waste products of the
bacteria give off the typical odor of bad breath.
Where does the odor come from?
cases of bad breath appear to be due to the breakdown of proteins by a
variety of micro-organisms. Several of the breakdown products are foul
smelling gases. In people with healthy teeth and gums, the odor
usually comes from the far back region of the tongue, and grows
stronger when the patient starts talking. The dentist can sample this
area using a plastic spoon. The odor coming from the spoon sample may
then be compared to the overall odor. Although we do not know why, the
very back of the tongue is an important source of bad breath, possibly
as a result of postnasal drip, which can get stuck on the tongue and
is then broken down by bacteria on the tongue surface. If the back of
the tongue is the problem, then the dentist can recommend a method of
cleaning the area, either with a toothbrush, or a specially designed
tongue scraper (in some countries, tongue cleaning is a common and
ancient practice). It takes time and patience to overcome the gagging
reflex. But, eventually, tongue cleaning becomes easy. Care should be
taken to clean the back of the tongue thoroughly yet gently, without
inflicting pain or sores.
Can gum disease cause bad breath?
some people, bad breath is associated with gum disease, especially if
rubbing the areas between the teeth and gums yields a foul odor. Your
dentist can help prevent and treat gum diseases in various ways,
depending on the type and extent of the problem, but your own daily
home care makes all the difference in the world in maintaining gum
health between appointments. Cleaning of the spaces between the teeth
is of great importance. One home tip to healthy gums (and less bad
breath) is to smell the odor coming from the dental floss, and to work
to clean those areas more carefully. People with gum disease often
have higher levels of odor coming from their tongue, as well.
How do I find a dentist who treats bad breath?
Dentists are taught in dental school about the oral
causes of bad breath (halitosis). If you have bad
breath, you may want to start by talking to your general
dentist about treatment options.
type of treatment is there?
Your dentist may recommend dental treatment, if there are
other areas in which bacteria and food can become
trapped and cause odor. The dentist may also suggest
daily rinsing with one of several available mouthwashes
which have been scientifically shown to reduce bad
breath over time. Your dentist may also refer you to clinics that specialize
in identifying breath odors, or to other medical experts.
Where can I get products that will be useful in
treating bad breath?
After determining the cause of your halitosis, your
dentist will be able to prescribe or recommend those
products that can be helpful for you.
What can I do?
probability, professional diagnosis and treatment can help turn bad
breath into good breath. However, it is sometimes difficult for us to
sense the improvement ourselves. In this case, a family member or
close friend can also provide important feedback and reinforcement.
Listed below are some of the Do's and Don'ts regarding bad breath.
Remember, bad breath is a problem that needs professional attention.
Don't mask it - deal with it.
- Visit your dentist regularly.
- Have your teeth cleaned periodically by a dental professional.
- Floss or otherwise clean between your teeth, as recommended by
your dentist. Choose unscented floss so that you can detect those
areas between your teeth that give off odors, and clean them more
- Brush your teeth and gums properly. Ask your dentist to
recommend a toothbrush or scraper for your tongue.
- Clean your tongue all the way back gently, but thoroughly. Drink
plenty of liquids.
- Chew sugar-free gum for a minute or two at a time, especially if
your mouth feels dry. Chewing parsley, mint, cloves or fennel
seeds may also help.
- Clean your mouth after eating or drinking milk products, fish
- Unless your dentist advises otherwise, soak dentures overnight
in antiseptic solution.
- Get control over the problem.
- Ask a family member to tell you whenever you have bad breath.
- If someone in your family or a close friend has bad breath, find
a kind way to let them know. If you can't tell them directly,
leave this fact file lying around. They may get the message.
- Eat fresh, fibrous vegetables such as carrots.
- Don't let your concern about having bad breath run your life.
- Don't be passive.
- Don't be depressed. Get help.
- Don't ignore your gums - you can lose your teeth as well as
- Don't drink too much coffee - it may make the situation worse.
- Don't forget to clean behind the back teeth in each row.
- Don't brush your tongue with regular toothpaste - it's better to
dip your toothbrush in mouthwash for tongue cleaning.
- Don't run to the gastro-enterologist for concerns of having bad
breath - it usually comes from the mouth and almost never from the
- Don't give mouthwash to very young children, as they can swallow
- Don't clean your tongue so hard that it hurts.
- Don't rely on mouthwash alone - practice complete oral hygiene.
you have chronic bad breath?
Try brushing your tongue gently twice a day and maintain good
have time to brush after lunch?
Eat an apple and rinse your mouth with water.