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Bad Breath Be Gone: Steps To Improve Your Mouth Health

Medically reviewed on Jun 7, 2017 by C. Fookes, BPharm.

Why Does My Breathe Smell Bad?

Most causes of bad breath - also known as halitosis - come from the mouth itself and usually from either the food you eat or the bacteria that live there.

The bacteria that reside in the mouth interact with food particles stuck between teeth and other debris and release foul-smelling gases.

In some cases, health conditions and poor hygiene habits may cause bad breath, which may improve with regular and proper dental care. See your dentist or doctor if the bad breath seems to stick around even after proper hygiene.

Morning Mouth: The Unpleasant Start To The Day

Bad breath can be caused by a decreased flow of saliva. Saliva plays an important part in digestion and helps to remove odor-causing particles in the mouth.

Bad breath when you wake up is considered normal. This happens because the saliva that regularly washes away decaying food and odors during the day diminishes at night while you sleep. Your mouth becomes dry and dead cells stick to your tongue and inside of your cheek. Bacteria use these cells as a food source and expel foul-smelling gases.

Nasty Bacteria and Gum Disease

Gum disease is inflammation of the tissue that surrounds the teeth and is caused by a build-up of plaque because of poor brushing and flossing.

Bacteria from bad gums will migrate to other parts of the mouth - especially the tongue - and is thought to be responsible for a significant amount of halitosis. Cavities and an impacted or abscessed tooth can all be responsible for bad breath.

Dieting Fads: High Protein, Low Carbs

High protein, low-carb diets like Dr. Atkins can cause your body to burn fats for energy instead of carbs and can lead to a condition caused ketosis. Ketones are produced because of the fat breakdown and can lend an odor to your breath. Ketones may have a subtle, sweet smell like fruit or acetone in nail polish remover.

Culprits: Food Offenders, Smoking, Alcohol and Medicines

Garlic, onions, fish and coffee are obvious causes of bad breath, as are beverages that dry out the mouth, such as alcohol, because they reduce levels of saliva needed to wash away odor-causing bacteria. Regularly drinking water, particularly at meal times; chewing sugar-free gum after meals; and adding a squeeze of lemon to fish dishes can help reduce food odor.

Smoking is also a notorious cause of bad breath. Smoke particles remain in the lungs, long after you have finished that last drag, making your breath smell pungent and stale. Smoking also dries out the mouth contributing to gum disease and dental decay.

Many medicines are associated with bad breath, usually because they dry out the mouth. Offenders include antihistamines, sedatives, amphetamines, antidepressants, diuretics, decongestants, anticholinergics and some antipsychotics. Certain vitamin supplements (especially in high doses) are also culprits.

Could It Be A More Serious Medical Condition?

Bad breath should not be taken lightly. Sometimes bad breath can be a sign of a more serious illness.

Poorly controlled or undiagnosed diabetics may have a fruity breath from the acetones of ketoacidosis. Acid reflux or an infection of the sinuses or the respiratory tract can also be the cause of bad breath.

Chronic kidney failure can produce an ammonia-like odor because toxins are excreted through the lungs.

Bad Breath Be Gone: Here’s What You Can Do

Good oral hygiene is the key to fresh breath. The main treatment of bad breath comes from within the mouth.

  • Brush, floss and scrape twice-a-day, every day.
  • Use mouthwash frequently.
  • Stay hydrated - dry mouth can exacerbate bad breath.
  • Suck on sugar-free candies to keep mouth moist
  • Do not smoke or chew tobacco
  • Visit your dentist every 6 months
  • Talk to your doctor or dentist if your bad breath does not improve.

Brush Your Teeth Twice-a-Day. Every Day.

Brush your teeth at least twice-a-day. You should spend at least two minutes brushing to make sure you get to those hard to reach places. Pay extra attention to the areas where the tooth reaches the gum. Electric toothbrushes are more effective than manual toothbrushes in removing plaque.

The best time to brush your teeth is usually just after you eat to reduce the levels of bacteria that cause tooth decay and bad breath. However, for food and drinks that are acidic (especially fizzy drinks and fruit juices) these can soften the enamel and brushing too soon can damage the enamel. In this case it is best to wait 30 minutes before brushing to allow enamel to harden.

Make A Date With Your Floss

Do you floss everyday? You probably hear that question at the dentist. Certainly you are always truthful, right?

It's never too late to start. Flossing is best performed after brushing; twice a day is best but once a day is better than none. Dental floss or interdental brushes can be used. The goal is to clean the areas where your toothbrush cannot reach and to clear the spaces in-between your teeth. The gum stimulation is good for your gums, too. If you are not sure how to do this, ask your dentist or dental hygienist to show you the best way.

Tongue Scraping and More

Sounds painful, but it's not. This is done using a tongue scraper or a soft toothbrush. You need to place it as far back on the tongue as possible and scrape forward to clear off any coating. It’s best done once-a-day after brushing and flossing. You could also consider using a mouthwash like Cepacol or Listerine after you have brushed, flossed and scraped. A mouthwash helps to kill bacteria or neutralize any chemicals that causes bad breath.

Keep Your Mouth Moist: Drink Plenty of Water

Drinking plenty of fluids, particularly water, helps to keep your saliva flowing.

A swish of water after eating can loosen food particles. Sugar-free gum after each meal may also help to increase saliva flow and prevent plaque from forming as well as keeping your breath fresh.

Artificial saliva substitutes may also be used if deemed necessary.

To Do List: Watch What Goes In Your Mouth

Common sense can go a long way if you are worried about your breath. But remember, if you love onions and garlic, bad breath from these foods is usually temporary and a quick brush and a little time will ease that odor. If you are still concerned:

  • Avoid the main offenders like onions and garlic.
  • Stop smoking and drink less alcohol.
  • Watch out for those fad diets – eat a few more carbs.

Prescription and Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medicines

Good oral hygiene is the most effective way of treating bad breath. In conjunction with good oral hygiene, prescription and OTC products may also be beneficial. Mouthwashes that contain antibacterial agents cetylpyridinium chloride (Cepacol), chlorhexidine (Peridex) or hydrogen peroxide are effective. Closys, a toothpaste, mouthwash and oral spray hygiene system is another option.

These products kill the germs that cause bad breath and freshen your breath. If bad breath is due to acid reflux, drugs such as H2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or antacids may also be recommended; examples include Zantac, Prevacid and Mylanta.

Probiotics: A Different Way To Treat Bad Breath

There are some experts who believe treating bad breath with products designed to kill bacteria (such as mouthwashes) is the WRONG way to treat the problem, and will actually make bad breath worse. More than 700 different strains of bacteria have been found in the human mouth, although most people only host to 34 to 72 different varieties. Most are harmless and aid in food digestion. Some, such as Streptococcus mutans and Porphyromonas gingivalis have been linked to tooth decay and periodontitis.

One type of bacteria has been designated super-hero status. People with high levels of S. salivarius in their mouth have little, if any, tooth decay. S. salivarius has been shown to crowd out odor-causing bacteria, and can help eliminate bad breath. The trouble with mouthwashes is that they tend to kill all bacteria, both good and bad.

Oral care probiotics are an alternative treatment that contain high numbers of S. salivarius K12 and/or S. salivarius M18 bacteria. Both these strains of S. salivarius can help us to maintain good oral health and limit both bad breath and tooth decay.

Regularly Plan a Visit To Your Dentist

Prevention is the key to a healthy mouth. You should visit your dentist on a regular basis, usually every six months, to have your teeth examined and cleaned. You want to prevent gingivitis (gum disease), cavities, and other oral issues.

If you have a problem with bad breath your dentist can help determine the cause, provide advice, and determine treatment. It may be that a regular cleaning, flossing and a daily mouthwash may be all that's needed. However, if needed, your dentist can refer you to your doctor your halitosis is due to other causes.

Finished: Bad Breath Be Gone: Steps To Improve Your Mouth Health

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