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Halitosis, also known as bad breath – What are the causes and how is it treated?

When it comes to embarrassing medical conditions, it’s probably safe to say that bad breath (halitosis) is up there with the worst of them. After all, the first thing a person does on meeting you is to strike a conversation. And as soon as you open your mouth to reply – Bam! You have hit them with the full extent of your condition. We feel embarrassed because we feel it is our ‘fault’ and there is a general perception that if you have smelly breath, you also have poor oral hygiene habits. If the only thing this article achieves is to assure you on both counts that in most cases, it is most definitely NOT your fault, then that is a good thing.

Bad breath, scientifically known as Halitosis, affects a large quantity of us at some point during their lives, with some suffering worse than others. There are a number of reasons why a person could suffer with halitosis and there are also a number of methods which they could use to help treat the condition too. Here we’ll be taking a look at some of the more common causes of bad breath, how it can be treated.


What causes bad breath?

As mentioned, bad breath is very common. The good news is, it is also very treatable, but as far as effective treatments go, one of the best treatments has to be prevention. In order to prevent the condition, you must first understand what causes it. Though halitosis may not appear to be serious, it could be hiding a much darker problem, as it could be a sign of advanced gum disease. And advanced gum disease has been linked with heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and many other more serious problems. The most worrying thing about gum disease (or periodontal disease, to give it its medical name) is that it is very often symptomless until the very advanced stages, by which time reversal of the problem is more difficult (see my article on Agressive periodontitis for more information on the prognosis and treatment of advanced stage periodontitis).


Poor oral hygieneWithout question, one of the main causes of halitosis is poor oral hygiene. The mouth is breeding ground for bacteria as it provides perfect conditions for bacteria to thrive. In order for bacteria to thrive, it requires warmth, moisture, and darkness, and the mouth provides all three. Every day for numerous reasons, plaque will begin to build up on our gums and teeth which can then lead to increased levels of bacteria. As well as that, any food debris coating our teeth or stuck in places we can’t reach will begin to rot and as the bacteria begins to build up, it will cause the trademark awful smell associated with bad breath. It is not just bacteria accumulating on the surface of your teeth however. Bacteria can also build up underneath the gum line. This is where a hygienist can play such an important part in your overall mouth hygiene (see my article on the differences between your dentist and a hygienist).


Certain foodsAnother common cause of halitosis is when we consume certain foods that have been known to exasperate the problem and make it worse. Some foods can release oils found within the stomach and our intestines to help digest them and to break them down. These oils are then absorbed into the bloodstream and will be transported to the lungs. As we breathe out and speak, the oils now in the lungs will then be in the air we exhale, causing the bad odour. Common foods that cause this are raw onions, garlic, eggs, cheeses, and alcohol. Until these foods have been fully digested, the oils will continue to be absorbed. Of course, these are ‘short-term’effects. If your bad breath disappears the day after, there is no need to worry.

Medical and dental problemsSinus infections, problems with teeth, abscesses, rotten teeth, and gum disease can all contribute towards bad breath for numerous reasons. The gum disease can lead to bleeding in the mouth, which often causes a foul smell and if left untreated, the infection can spread and lead to more serious conditions. Sometimes after a bad cold, for example, you may notice you suffer from unpleasant smelling breath and a bad taste in your mouth for a few days. Again, if the symptoms disappear, after a few days, there is no cause for further concern. If the symptoms persist, however, a trip to your doctor or hygienist may be advisable.

How is halitosis treated?

The good news is that halitosis can be treated in numerous ways. For a start, if you brush your teeth regularly, use dental floss, and mouthwash, then a good quantity of the bacteria responsible for bad breath can be destroyed right there. Brushing the tongue with your toothbrush, or using a tongue scraper to get rid of the coating on your tongue, is another great way of getting rid of bad breath, as is using anti-bacterial mouth washes. Above all else, make sure you see your hygienist or oral health specialist on a regular basis.

If you have done all the above and you are still concerned, or if your dentist or hygienist has recommended you seek further help, please do contact me for an initial consultation.

Did you know you can see a specialist periodontist without needing to wait for a referral from your dentist or hygienist?

If you would like to book an appointment, contact me directly on 0845 164 5075

Dr Peter Galgut is the UK’s leading periodontist. He was awarded the prestigious ‘Dentist of the Year’ Award in both 2010 nd 2013. You can read more about his work here: Dr Peter Galgut

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