There’s no doubt that bad breath, or halitosis, can be embarrassing. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get bad breath under control.
To ensure that your breath is fresh, it’s important to practice good oral hygiene. If you don’t brush and floss daily, little bits of food can become trapped in your mouth, attracting bacteria that lead to bad breath. Also, food particles that collect between the teeth, around the gums, and on the tongue can decay, causing a foul odor.
To prevent this problem, the American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day. Brush gently and pay special attention to the gum line. Also, use floss or an interdental cleaner to clean between your teeth at least once daily. Brushing your tongue and roof of your mouth can also help remove odor-causing bacteria and debris. Mouthwashes just temporarily mask a bad odor. They don’t have a long-lasting effect. If you constantly need to use mouthwash or breath freshener because of bad breath, talk with your dentist.
Several other factors can play a role in bad breath. These include:
Gum disease. Bad breath that doesn’t go away can be an early warning sign of gum disease. In addition to brushing and flossing, it’s important to have regular dental checkups and professional cleanings.
Foods. Certain foods can affect your breath for up to three days after eating them, including onions, garlic, and coffee. Once food is absorbed into the blood, it is carried to the lungs. There it can give exhaled air a bad odor. Brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash can mask the problem. But the improvement is short-lived, and the problem will keep coming back until your body eliminates the food. For a long-term solution, you might need to adjust your diet.
Dry mouth. Saliva helps prevent bad breath by washing away food particles and bacteria. When you sleep, saliva production slows down. This causes many people to wake up with bad breath. Dry mouth during the day can be caused by salivary gland problems, breathing through your mouth, or taking certain medications. Depending on the cause, your dentist might recommend drinking more fluids, chewing sugarless gum to stimulate saliva flow, or using artificial saliva.
Smoking. This is another common cause of bad breath—and one more good reason not to smoke. If you’re a smoker, ask your dentist or doctor for help with quitting.
Medical conditions. Bad breath can also be a sign of another medical disorder, such as chronic sinusitis, postnasal drip, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, digestive problems, and liver or kidney disease. If your mouth is healthy, your dentist may refer you for a medical evaluation.
“Bad Breath (Halitosis).” American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/b/bad-breath.aspx. Accessed 2013.
“What Is Halitosis?”Academy of General Dentistry, January 2012.http://www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/?abc=W&iid=306&aid=1254. Accessed 2013.
“Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Frequently Asked Questions.” American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/g/gum-disease.aspx. Accessed 2013.
“Dry Mouth.” American Dental Association.http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/dry-mouth.aspx. Accessed 2013.