Bad Breath – Causes and Cures

One of the most common questions we get when people come for their dental check-ups and cleanings is, “I seem to be having bad breath a lot recently; how come?”  Alternately, they may ask if there are any products we recommend to help get rid of bad breath.  Remarkably, there is little good information available on why people have bad breath, and almost just as little information on what to do about it.  So here are my Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) on the Causes of, and Treatments for, Bad Breath.

Causes of Halitosis, aka Bad Breath

  1. Acid Reflux – this is IMO one of the MOST COMMON, but MOST UNDIAGNOSED causes of bad breath.  Just think of how awful your mouth feels and tastes after throwing up?  Well, chronic acid reflux, or GERD, is basically the equivalent of throwing up a little bit on a regular basis.  If it happens at night, when your saliva levels are lower anyway, and it just sits in your mouth, it suddenly becomes obvious how reflux/heartburn leads to bad breath.
  2. Your Diet – do you eat a lot of onions, garlic or strong spices?  These are some of the most common dietary causes.
  3. Gum Disease – the most common one of all, naturally.  If you have a serious, chronic bacterial infection in your mouth, then of course your breath will stink.  Dentists and hygienists are often amazed at how many people function in society with breath that can be smelled the moment someone walks in the door.
  4. Poor Brushing & Flossing Habits – even if you haven’t developed real periodontal disease, even bad gingivitis can be a real issue.  Brushing does a good job of getting plaque off the front and back of your teeth, but not inbetween, and if you leave some food between the teeth a bit too long – EWWWWW!
  5. Chronic Sinus Drainage – For serious allergy sufferers, this is aggravating indeed.  Having a log of sinus drainage, possibly with big tonsils that get clogged, will let bacteria grow like crazy.
  6. Diabetes – one that many patients never realize, but dentists and hygienists can sometimes pick up on simply from the sickeningly-sweet smell.  The more diabetes gets out of control, the worse the breath gets.
  7. Liver/kidney Problems – not nearly as common, this is most often found with alcoholics.
  8. Smoking – again, one of the more obvious causes.

How to Treat Bad Breath

When you look at some of the items on the list above, the solutions become immediately obvious, such as:

  • If you smoke – quit smoking!
  • If you eat a lot of onions and garlic and strong spices — use less.
  • Brush twice a day and aim to floss at least a few times a week (please don’t try to make yourself go from never flossing to twice a day – it won’t happen.  Build up slowly — 3-4 times week at first is a great start.)
  • Brush your tongue, too, or use a tongue scraper.
  • Fresh Breath Products, such as Oxyfresh mouthrinses, toothpastes, etc.
  • If you have diabetes – go see your MD and work to get it under control.
  • If you have gum disease (periodontitis), see your dentist and get treated, especially since bad breath is one of the least harmful health effects of periodontal disease.  See our treatment options for gum disease, including laser surgery.
  • AVOID any mouthrinse that contains a high percentage of alcohol!  These include Listerine and Scope, as well as the generic versions.  Alcohol-based mouthrinses actually dry the mouth out, and that is an environment in which bad breath-causing bacteria actually thrive.  In addition, they sting like crazy – most people can’t keep them in at full strength for a full minute, which is needed for them to work.
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