One in five people have bad breath
Bad breath, medically called ‘halitosis’, is a taboo subject that is a widespread problem in the general population. In fact, no less than one in five people have bad breath. Everyone suffers from bad breath occasionally, especially in the morning or after drinking alcohol or eating strongly flavoured foods. Some people, however, have bad breath regularly. About half of all people with halitosis have foul-smelling breath on a regular basis, and for 15% of the population the problem is chronic.
Bad breath: more than just embarrassing
Many people are unaware that their breath smells. It’s also difficult to tell them of their problem of which they are seemingly unaware. And those who are aware of the problem are often embarrassed about it. Bad breath has a significant impact both personally and socially on those who suffer from it regularly. It can lead to social anxiety, job loss or even isolation in worst case scenarios.
Bad breath is usually easy to treat
Nobody wants bad breath. But the problem shouldn’t be ignored because it’s too embarrassing to talk about. Especially since bad breath can be banished 90% of the time.
What causes bad breath?
Foul-smelling breath can be caused by various factors. In most cases, the culprits are bacteria or food particles in your mouth. When bacteria in your mouth break down proteins in food, sulphur compounds are released and it’s these compounds that cause the smell. During the night, the mouth is dry and saliva decreases, so the odour is usually worse upon awakening. When your mouth lacks saliva, bacteria multiply, causing bad breath. This kind of bad breath is relatively easy to treat by brushing your teeth, flossing and rinsing your mouth with mouthwash.
Other causes of bad breath originating in the mouth:
- Smoking, food or drink;
- Food particles or bacteria trapped on the tongue
- Tooth decay
- A dry mouth (xerostomia). Sleeping with your mouth open, coffee and certain medications can cause your mouth to dry out
- Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis). Bacteria in inflamed gums release sulphur compounds that cause a foul smell
- Mouth infections. For example, mouth ulcers
Causes of bad breath that are not related to the mouth:
- Sinus infection, laryngitis
- Tonsil infection
- Nasal polyps
- A weak lower oesophageal sphincter (LES). This valve-like muscle forms a barrier between your oesophagus and your stomach. A weak LES remains open, allowing acids to flow back into your throat. This causes bad breath. A weak LES can be caused by a tear of rupture in the diaphragm, also known as a diaphragmatic hernia
- Constipation and/or a bowel disorder which creates gas which exits the mouth. Undigested food can pass into the intestines, putrefy and give off foul gas, which rises up and causes bad breath
- A Zenker’s diverticulum in the oesophagus. A Zenker’s diverticulum is a pouch that branches off the cervical oesophagus. Bad breath can result from fermentation of food particles that are trapped in this pouch
- Blood-borne halitosis. In some people, odorous gases circulating in the bloodstream are exhaled through the lungs, causing bad breath. This is thought to be due to a lack of an enzyme in the blood
- Diabetes . One of the symptoms of diabetes is a chemical-like smell to the breath that some people describe as smelling like acetone. A person with diabetes has the inability to use sugar as a fuel source and instead, fat is utilised by the body. Due to this, the breakdown of fats causes the occurrence of ketones. These ketones are acidic and smell like acetone. Diabetes can also cause oral problems such as a dry mouth, gingivitis and tooth decay
- Liver or kidney problems. A liver or kidney condition can cause certain gases or waste products to build up in the blood. These gases are exhaled through the lungs as smelly breath
How is bad breath treated?
To rid yourself of bad breath, good oral hygiene is important, so start here. This means brushing your teeth for about five minutes twice daily, cleaning the spaces in between your teeth by flossing or using a toothpick or interdental brush, followed by rinsing thoroughly with an antibacterial mouthwash. You should also visit a dentist twice a year for a check-up to get your teeth cleaned and any cavities filled. Plaque and cavities are a great breeding ground for the bacteria that cause bad breath. The tongue may also be loaded with decaying food particles and bacteria that cause bad breath. Brushing or scraping your tongue first thing in the morning and before bed will help eliminate the problem here.
If you’re not able to banish your bad breath with good oral hygiene, then eliminating certain types of foods is the next step in pin-pointing the cause of it. Your GP will be able to provide you with dietary advice. If this doesn’t help, you should be referred to a dietician, gastroenterologist or ENT specialist to get to the root of the problem.
A doctor who specialises in the treatment and cure of bad breath is called a halitologist. A halitologist treats halitosis using special equipment. A halitologist may either treat you him or herself or refer you to another specialist.
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Last updated on July 14, 2016.