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Dental Health Articles

Bad Breath - Maybe More Than Just an Embarrassing Problem

By Nick K. Nguyen, DDS, APC

Bad breath, otherwise known as halitosis, is an unpleasant and embarrassing condition for many people. Millions of dollars each year are spent on dental products in hopes of controlling this nagging problem. The truth is that halitosis can be a very complex and often a frustrating problem that can present itself for different reasons. In fact, it may just be a symptom of a more serious illness.

More commonly, ingesting certain foods, such as onions and garlic, can contribute to bad breath. As foods are absorbed into the bloodstream, the odor is transferred to the lungs where it is forced out when a person exhales. Brushing teeth and the tongue will help, but the odor may continue until the food is expelled. Be patient, this may take a few hours!

Another frequent cause of halitosis is gum disease. The bacteria in plaque and tartar can cause swollen gums, deterioration of bone, and halitosis. Controlling gum disease can greatly help in reducing halitosis. However, it is very difficult for individuals to accomplish this on their own as brushing and flossing alone are not enough. It is highly recommended that everyone also have routine visits to their dental office for periodontal checkups and cleanings (at least two times a year). Bacteria can hide in places where most people cannot access (there are 160 tooth surfaces in a full adult dentition and 100 in a full child's dentition).

Dry mouth (xerostomia), caused by the lack of saliva, can also cause bad breath. Natural enzymes and buffers in saliva help flush and kill bacteria and neutralize pH levels in the mouth. Without saliva, bacteria can multiply to extreme levels, leading to bad breath. Dry mouth can result from taking certain medications, being a mouth-breather, having stress or salivary gland or other glandular disorders. Increasing fluid intake and eating sugarless candy may help. For more severe cases, artificial saliva can be prescribed.

Other factors which may contribute to bad breath include (but are not limited to) dieting, using tobacco products, and having medical conditions such as respiratory tract infections, postnasal drip, sinus infections, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, liver or kidney problems. If it is determined that the mouth is healthy, a physician may need to determine if there are any other conditions.

Halitosis can present in individuals as the result of one or more of the above reasons, with the severity dependent on the complexity of the source of the problem. Diagnosing the cause of bad breath is the key to coming up with a solution. Brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash may be helpful, but may not be long-lasting, especially if the root of the problem is more complex.


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