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Halitosis is the medical term for bad breath, and if you’ve ever had it, you shouldn’t feel bad. About 1 in 5 people in the general population suffer from it, and many people who think they have it actually do not.
The paranoia probably stems from the social stigma people place on those who have bad breath. In some cases, the causes of bad breath are simple and preventable so others are quick to judge, but there are rare exceptions in which someone’s halitosis may actually require medical attention. Knowing what causes bad breath can help identify the difference. In most cases, bad breath isn’t serious, but if it lasts longer than a few weeks, it may be evidence of a deeper underlying problem.
Bad Breath Causes
In order to get rid of bad breath, the first thing you need to know is why it’s happening. There are basically 10 common causes of bad breath:
- Drinking and Eating Certain Foods and Drinks: Certain drinks and foods, particularly coffee, garlic and onions, are notorious for creating bad breath. We love them for their taste, but that taste can linger once it’s absorbed into the bloodstream. Not only is the smell expelled through the breath, but the odors remain until the body processes the food.
- Plaque Buildup: When you don’t brush properly, or often enough, bacteria can form in your mouth, and it’s one of the primary causes of bad breath. This bacteria feeds on the food particles left behind on your teeth and gums and produce waste products that release foul odors. If you have braces, you should take extra care to remove food particles from your mouth to avoid bad breath.
- Infrequent Flossing: When you don’t floss, small particles of food can get stuck between your teeth and around your gums. These are tricky places where toothbrushes can’t quite reach. When food particles are left behind, they start to collect bacteria, which in turn causes bad breath and plaque.
- Tongue Bacteria: Bacterial growth on the tongue accounts for 80‒90 percent of all cases of mouth-related bad breath. Poor oral hygiene results in plaque bacteria being left behind on your teeth and gums. This bacteria produces foul-smelling waste products that cause bad breath. This can lead to gingivitis, tooth decay, and cavities.
- Smoking: Smoking is a major cause of bad breath. Your body will thank you for giving up smoking, but your friends will, too. It can lead to serious bad breath and you may not even notice it because you have been accustomed to the smell. Your bad breath may be due to other causes, too, but tobacco use is a guarantee of bad breath. If you’re ready to quit, ask your doctor or dentist for advice and support.
- Dry Mouth: When your mouth is extremely dry, there isn’t enough saliva to wash away excess food particles and bacteria. Over time, this can cause an unpleasant smell if they build up on the teeth. Both stress and breathing through your mouth can also be causes of dry mouth, and certain medications have dry mouth as a side effect. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Breathing through your mouth can also cause the saliva you produce to evaporate rapidly. That’s why many people who breath through their mouth when they sleep get a dry mouth and wake up with bad breath.
- Morning Breath: Your mouth produces less saliva while you’re sleeping so food particle bacteria multiply faster while you sleep. That’s why bad breath odors are typically worse when you first wake up.
- Infections: If you have an infection in your mouth from a wound, it’s an easy target for bacteria build-up. If you’re having oral surgery (having your wisdom teeth pulled for example), be sure to keep an eye on the infection. A medical professional can prescribe antibiotics to help minimize the infection. If you’re having your wisdom teeth or other teeth removed, it’s possible that you may need to deal with bad breath, as well. When your teeth are extracted, bacteria can get inside your wounds and this is what causes halitosis. Your dentist may provide antibiotics to help, but if the infection persists and causes chronic bad breath for more than a few days, you may need to see your dentist to have the wound cleaned. Bacteria can also infect your gums when they’re not healthy or when they are compromised by other health issues or physical injury.
- Medical Conditions: Bad breath can be the result of certain conditions, such as tonsil stones, respiratory tract infections, chronic sinusitis, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, gastrointestinal disturbance, or liver or kidney ailments. If you suspect that your bad breath may be the result of something chronic, speak to a medical professional. Certain conditions beyond your control can cause bad breath: sinus infections, tonsil stones, respiratory tract infections, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, gastrointestinal disturbances, or liver or kidney ailments are just some of the medical causes of bad breath. If you have chronic bad breath and your dentist rules out any oral health problems, see your doctor for an evaluation.
- Postnasal Drip: If you have sinusitis, or inflammation of the sinuses, mucus can get caught in the back of your throat, which can cause postnasal drip. The mucus can collect bacteria, and to make matters worse, now you have postnasal drip bad breath. Often, drinking lots of water and taking a decongestant can help with sinusitis, but if you have severe symptoms or your symptoms have lasted longer than a few weeks, you should talk to your doctor.
Bad Breath Remedies and Treatments
If you’re looking for a quick breath remedy, these simple tips can help with bad breath in the short term.
- Raw Fruits and Vegetables: Biting into a crispy apple is a great way to freshen your breath before you can get to brushing.
- Sugar-free Gum: It does more than refresh your mouth with flavor—it helps remove food particles and increases your saliva production which can help freshen breath.
- Drink More Water: A dry mouth can quickly lead to bad breath and is often the culprit of morning breath. Make sure you stay hydrated and keep a glass of water on your nightstand for a quick reach when you wake up.
How to Prevent Bad Breath
Now that you know some of the causes of bad breath (halitosis), let’s talk about its prevention. You can stay one step ahead of bad breath by improving your daily oral hygiene. Sticking to a consistent daily oral hygiene routine may help eliminate the problem completely. Here are six steps we recommend to keep bad breath from making its way into your mouth:
- Choose Your Toothpaste Wisely: Crest Complete Whitening Plus Scope Toothpaste is a great option to help prevent bad breath. It fights cavities and combines the whitening power of Crest with the freshening power of Scope Mouthwash to whiten teeth and freshen breath. Use a toothpaste that’s proven to fight cavities and plaque bacteria, like Crest Pro-Health Advanced Deep Clean Mint Toothpaste.
- Floss Regularly: Does flossing help with bad breath? You bet. Flossing really does make a difference in your oral hygiene. If you want to avoid bad breath from food particles stuck in between your teeth, get some floss around your fingers and go to work to prevent bad breath. Flossing can help remove germs that can cause bad breath.
- An Electric Toothbrush: An electric toothbrush does a better job of cleaning teeth than a standard brush. We recommend using an Oral-B Electric Toothbrush to ensure that you are doing your personal best at brushing. They are more effective at removing plaque than standard brushes, and they come with two-minute timers. Brushing for two minutes—twice daily—helps remove the plaque and bacteria that can result in bad breath. If you’re on the go and getting interesting looks, don’t be afraid to excuse yourself and run to the bathroom for a quick brush.
- Use Mouthwash: A little swishing is all it takes. Adding mouthwash to your daily routine is easy. Remember to follow all instructions. And if you don’t like the burn, try an alcohol-free version like Crest Pro-Health Multi-Protection that kills 99% of the bacteria that cause bad breath, plaque and gingivitis.
- Try A Tongue Scraper: Brushing and flossing can help keep your teeth and gums clean, but don’t forget about your tongue. Bacteria can easily find its way into the tiny crevices on the tongue’s surface. Using a tongue scraper to remove bacteria can be even more effective than using a toothbrush in creating a clean tongue.
If you continue to have bad breath, be sure to talk to your dentist and hygienist. It could be a sign of a larger underlying health problem.
*vs brushing alone
** in lab tests