Bad breath, or halitosis refers to the unpleasant odor that comes from the mouth. It is very embarrassing for a person and can cause anxiety. Bad breath is a common problem which may be an indication of an underlying health issue. Usually, bad breath lasts for a short period of time but if it continues for prolonged periods then proper treatment is necessary.
The following are signs associated with bad breath:
- Unpleasant odor in the mouth
- Alterations in taste
- White coating on the tongue
- Dry mouth
There are multiple causes for bad breath out of which poor oral hygiene is the most common cause. Improper brushing causes retention of food particles in the mouth which promotes the growth of bacteria leading to bad breath. Bad breath is very common in the mornings and occurs due to the decreased production of saliva during sleep which promotes bacterial growth.
The other causes may include:
- Dry mouth which is caused due to reduced salivary production
- Oral surgeries to remove decayed tooth, etc
- Infections of the oral cavity
- Dental problems
- Improper cleaning of dentures which leads to bacterial growth or loose-fitting dentures
- Use of certain medicines such as antihistamines, diuretics, triampterene and paraldehyde
- Certain health problems such as acid reflux, diabetes, digestion problems, etc
Bad breath can become worse when foods with strong flavor such as garlic or onion are consumed.
Bad breath is common in people of all age groups. The following factors increase the risk of a person to develop bad breath:
- Smoking and use of tobacco products
- Alcohol abuse
When to consult the doctor?
Consult the dentist if bad breath is not relieved with good oral hygiene measures such as brushing, flossing the teeth and tongue cleaning after eating. It is especially important to consult the doctor if bad breath is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Sores in the mouth
- Persistent dry mouth
- Dental pain
- Fever or fatigue
- Difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing
- White spots on the tonsils
You need to have a dental check-up if bad breath has developed after a recent dental surgery or with the use of a new medicine.
The dentist rates the severity of bad breath on a scale by smelling the odor from the mouth and nose of the patient. Another common method to rate the severity of odor is by scraping the back of the tongue and checking its smell. Some of the dentists may use specialized and sophisticated detectors which can detect the chemicals responsible for bad breath. Additionally, the doctor will perform a complete examination of the mouth to check for the signs or symptoms of dry mouth, gum diseases or infections.
Treatment depends on the cause of bad breath. Treatment approaches include:
- If the cause is related to poor oral health, the dentist may suggest the use of mouth rinses and antibacterial toothpastes to kill the bacteria which has caused plaque buildup on the teeth.
- Bad breath resulting from dry mouth may be treated with artificial saliva.
- In case of gum diseases, a special treatment is provided by a periodontist (gum specialist).
- If bad breath is associated with health problems such as diabetes, acid reflux, etc. then treatment is provided for removing the cause.
Some of the self-care measures which can help to manage bad breath includes:
- Chewing sugar-free gums or candies to prevent dry mouth
- Drinking plenty of water to keep the mouth moist
- Going for regular dental checkups
- Using over-the-counter mouthwashes, mints or gums which can temporarily mask the bad odor