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Updated 11 February 2021

What Causes Halitosis – Bad Breath?

Patient with halistosis
Have you ever wondered why some people tend to have bad breath even though they seem to observe good oral hygiene? In fact, it is estimated that approximately 2.4% of adults suffer from halitosis. Halitosis or bad breath is a condition that is primarily caused by oral bacteria that are present in the throat, around the corners of the mouth, and on the tongue. These bacteria will release foul smelling volatile sulphur compounds from the back of the throat and tongue as a consequence of the bacteria rapidly metabolising proteins. It is normal for anyone to have bad breath especially when you wake from your night's rest. Bad breath would normally go once you brush your teeth, rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash and drink water. However, in a situation where halitosis does not go after brushing your teeth, then bad breath may be a symptom of another underlying health problem.

Common Symptoms of Halitosis 

Some of the common symptoms of bad breath include:
  • A foul smell or odour coming out from your mouth whenever you open it to talk,
  • The foul smell persisting even after brushing your teeth,
  • A whitish or yellowish film appears on the surface of your tongue,
  • A chronic dryness of your mouth,
The symptoms of bad breath may also be linked to several oral health issues, some of which include;
  • Gingivitis (gum disease at its early stage),
  • Periodontitis (gum disease at its late stage),
  • Abscess,
  • Tooth decay,
  • Mouth infections.

What causes Bad Breath?

Bad breath is neither contagious nor contracted from anyone. Halitosis occurs mainly due to poor oral health and dental hygiene. With a lack of proper care for your oral health, the food particles which are normally trapped between your teeth are metabolised by bacteria that then release volatile sulphur compounds which are foul smelling and responsible for your bad breath. Other oral health issues can cause bad breath, as highlighted before such as chronic dry mouth, infections of the mouth, throat, and nose, abscess, gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth decay. Other medical conditions can equally cause bad breath and these are:
  • Diabetes,
  • Anorexia nervosa,
  • Digestive system health problems,
  • Kidney failure,
  • Chronic sinusitis leading to post-nasal discharge,
  • Bile and acid reflux.
Bad breath is also caused by several other factors, such as:
  • Some foods, like cauliflower, onions, garlic or other foods with strong flavours,
  • Smoking of cigarettes, which can deprive the mouth of much needed oxygen which promotes the development of halitosis,
  • Drinking of alcoholic beverages, which can lead to chronic dry mouth,
  • The use of certain medications, which can also cause chronic dry mouth and promote bad breath.

Halitosis Testing & Diagnosis

Typically you should pay your dentist a visit when it seems as if your halitosis fails to go even after you have observed good oral hygiene. If you also experience tooth sensitivity or you have a discolouration of your teeth, you should see your dentist. Your dentist will carry out a physical examination of your mouth while asking questions with regards to your dental hygiene, eating, drinking, and smoking habits amongst other questions. Your dentist would also ask if you have been using any prescription and/or non-prescription drugs. A test to compare the smell of breath from your mouth and nose may be conducted. This will help your dentist to determine if the causative factor for your halitosis is emanating from your mouth, nose or even further in your body. When your dentist is unable to determine an immediate cause for your bad breath, he or she may refer you to see your GP for further tests and examinations to be conducted.
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What are the Treatment Options for Bad Breath?

After a proper examination of your mouth, your dentist may treat you for the dental disease found. This can be gingivitis, periodontitis, tooth decay or abscess. Your dentist would also recommend that you undergo professional dental cleaning. You may also cater for your halitosis concerns at home by:
  • Brushing your teeth daily and at regular intervals. The preferred number of times to brush your teeth daily is twice (in the morning and before you go to bed at night).
  • Consuming a lot of clean drinking water.
  • Making use of mouthwash and breath fresheners.
While home care would go a long way in dealing with your bad breath problem, ultimately, you should consult with your doctor or dentist to identify causative factor(s) and to resolve those factors before they further complicate your halitosis problem.

Recovery from Halitosis

There is a wise saying that "prevention is better than cure". This is true when it comes to recovering from bad breath treatment. Practicing good oral, dental hygiene is the first step towards avoiding bad breath. As mentioned earlier, maintaining good brushing habits is important. Brush your teeth at least twice daily, in the morning when you wake up and at night before bedtime. You also need to brush your tongue as well to remove the whitish or yellowish film that forms overnight. Apart from regular brushing, dental flossing at regular intervals will also help you to remove any food particles that may be lodged between your teeth. This will ensure that there are no food particles in your mouth for the sulphur generating bacteria to break down. Drink lots of water daily and reduce your intake of foods with garlic, cauliflower, onions, and other similar foods with a strong flavour. You should also limit your intake of sugary and processed foods. If you use dentures and any other similar personal dental apparatus, make sure that they are regularly cleaned.

Complications of Bad Breath

 If your halitosis is stubborn and does not seem to dissipate despite your change in lifestyle and your new found habit of maintaining good oral hygiene, then your quality of life is more than likely to be adversely affected. Bad breath can affect your social life and relationships.
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