What causes bad breath?

Bad Smell!! Bad breath (halitosis) is an embarrassing condition and can be a social handicap to those suffering from it. Often people can be unaware they have it especially if it comes and goes…people are often just “too polite” to let them know. Fortunately in most cases it can be treated.

Most commonly it comes from the mouth (locally), however can also come from other causes (systemic). Here is a list of the most common causes.

Local Causes

  1. Plaque. One of the biggest causes of bad breath is plaque. A build up of plaque can produce a smell similar to rotten eggs. Gum disease (gingivitis) occurs when plaque builds up around the gum margins, sometimes even causing them to bleed when brushed. Toxins from plaque can destroy the attachment of the gum to the tooth, causing a deep pocket which builds up plaque faster, and is hard to treat at home. Regular flossing and a good brushing technique will treat most of the problem. However plaque can also form around rough fillings and in decay. In both cases regular visits to your dentist or hygienist can keep on top of the problem.
  2. Sleep. Saliva plays an important role in keeping plaque levels down. During sleep saliva flow lessens and the saliva in your mouth can stagnate, giving rise to “morning breath”. This affects middle aged and older people more than younger ones.
  3. Smoking. Smoking itself can lead to bad breath but also decreases saliva flow. Some people develop “hairy tongue” where the tongue becomes more stained and hairy further trapping more plaque in it.
  4. Unclean Dentures. The acrylic dentures are made from is porous and traps a lot of plaque.

Systemic Causes

  1. Sinus and Tonsils. Chronic sinusitis with tonsillitis can lead to bad breath.
  2. Diet. Not just garlic, onion and alcohol, an excess of many food types especially in fad diets can lead to chemicals expired through the lungs. The key here is a balanced diet.
  3. Menstrual Cycle. This is linked to bad breath in some women. The sulphur concentrations in expired air can be four times the normal level around mid cycle, thought to be due to elevated estrogen levels.
  4. Disease. There are numerous systemic diseases such as diabetes, kidney or liver failure, tuberculosis and even some cancers.
  5. Drugs. Often prescribed to treat certain conditions, some reduce saliva flow and others can lead to chemicals exhaled through the lungs.

Generally if bad breath is caused systemically then medical advice is needed. Bad breath from local causes: can be minimised through cleaning at least twice a day, cleaning should include brushing, flossing and tongue scraping. Talk to your dentist or hygienist for good brushing and flossing techniques. Mouth washes help but only mask the odour for around 20 minutes. In most cases bad breath can be treated. Your dentist and hygienist will help to keep your mouth healthy and assist with trouble spots, they understand the causes of bad breath and the best ways to eliminate them.