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Halitosis (Bad Breath)

What is halitosis?

Halitosis is an oral health problem where the main symptom is bad smelling breath. In most cases, finding the cause of the bad breath is the first step toward treating this preventable condition.

What causes bad breath?

There are many causes of bad breath, just as there are many sources of bacteria in the mouth. Halitosis may be caused by the following:

  • Certain foods. The things you eat are linked to your oral health, including your breath. Items such as garlic and onions, or any food, are absorbed into the bloodstream. Until that food leaves the body, it has the potential to affect your breath.

  • Poor oral health care. Without correct and regular brushing and flossing, and routine dental exams, food remains in the mouth. This is a breeding ground for bacteria. Food that collects on the teeth, gums, and tongue may rot. This causes an unpleasant odor and taste in the mouth.

  • Improper cleaning of dentures. Dentures that are not cleaned correctly may be collecting bacteria, fungi, and remaining food particles, which cause bad breath.

  • Odor-causing bacteria on the tongue. Certain bacteria on the back of the tongue can interact with amino acids in foods and produce smelly sulfur compounds.

  • Periodontal disease. One of the main symptoms of this gum disease is bad-smelling breath, and an unpleasant taste in the mouth. This condition needs immediate care by an oral health professional.

  • Dry mouth (Xerostomia). This condition is often a key part of halitosis. When there is a major decrease in saliva production, the mouth can't cleanse itself and remove debris and particles left behind by food. Dry mouth may be caused by certain medicines, a salivary gland disorder, or by always breathing through the mouth instead of the nose.

  • Tobacco products. Tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and snuff stain the teeth and put the body at risk for a host of diseases. But they also help cause bad breath. Tobacco users also are at higher risk for the following:

    • Periodontal disease

    • Loss of ability to taste

    • Irritated gums

    • Oral cancer

  • A health condition. Bad breath may be a symptom of any of the following conditions. See your healthcare provider for  a diagnosis:

    • A respiratory infection

      • Infection of the nose, windpipe, or lungs

      • Chronic bronchitis

      • Postnasal drip

      • Chronic sinusitis

    • Diabetes

    • A gastrointestinal disorder

    • A liver or kidney disorder

What are the symptoms of halitosis?

The main symptom of halitosis is a bad odor from the mouth that is considered beyond a socially acceptable level. The odor can be worse in the morning or after smoking, drinking coffee, or eating certain foods such as garlic.

How is halitosis diagnosed?

Dentists often diagnose halitosis. The diagnosis is based on the person's history and mouth odor during the dental exam. The entire mouth is checked to see if a cause can be found, such as an infection. If the dentist can’t find the cause, he or she will refer you to an appropriate specialist, such as a doctor.

What is the treatment for halitosis?

Treatment depends mainly on the cause of the condition, including:

Cause

Possible treatment

Poor oral health care

If the bad breath is due to improper oral healthcare, in most cases your dentist will treat the cause of the problem.

Gum disease

If the cause is an underlying gum disease, the condition may be treated by your dentist. Or you may be referred to an oral specialist--in most cases, a periodontist. A periodontal cleaning often helps to remove the bacteria and tartar or plaque that has built up and is causing inflammation at the gumline.

Extensive plaque buildup

Your dentist or periodontist may recommend an antimicrobial mouth rinse. Also, you may be told to brush your tongue gently each time you brush your teeth to help remove odor-causing bacteria.

Health Condition

Diagnosis and treatment of an existing health condition may get rid of the bad breath.

How can I prevent halitosis?

Halitosis can be prevented or decreased if you:

  • Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day.

  • Brush your tongue, cheeks, and the roof of your mouth. Most bad breath bacteria live on the tongue. , So brushing or scraping the tongue can make a big difference in your breath.

  • If you have dentures, take them out at night and clean them completely before putting them back in your mouth. Talk with your dentist before using deodorizing sprays or tablets. Some only mask the odor for a short time.

  • If you smoke, quit. You will have better smelling breath, and a healthier body overall.

  • Keep your saliva flowing by eating healthy foods that make you chew. Carrots and apples require a lot of saliva. You can also chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candies. If you still don’t have enough saliva to keep your mouth moist, your dentist may suggest artificial saliva.

  • Visit your dentist on a regular basis. Regular check-ups can find problems such as gum disease, infections, and dry mouth. If you have bad breath and the dentist can’t find a cause, you may be referred to your primary healthcare provider for more follow-up.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eakle, W. Stephen, DDS
Online Medical Reviewer: Kapner, Michael, DDS
Date Last Reviewed: 9/18/2015
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