How to Stop and Prevent Bad Breath

by Dr. Yasaman Garakani on November 6, 2017

What is Halitosis (Bad Breath)?

Halitosis, commonly known as bad breath, can be an embarrassing health condition that affects many people. Bad breath is the presence of a foul-smelling odor that seems to come from the mouth cavity. It is believed that in more than 90% of cases, the odor originates in the mouth, throat, and tonsils. Although this is something everyone experiences at one time or another, if your case does not improve after brushing, flossing, and rinsing the mouth with an alcohol free mouthwash, it may be chronic.

The foul oral odor is usually caused by a group of sulfur-producing bacteria that live beneath the surface of the tongue and often in the throat and tonsil area and do not require oxygen to live. They occur naturally in the mouth and are essential because they assist in digestion by breaking down proteins into amino acids. Proteins are commonly found in food, mucus or phlegm, blood, and in diseased oral tissue.

Four Common Causes of Bad Breath

There are many underlying causes of bad breath, but these are the most common:

Dry mouth: Dry mouth provides a perfect environment for bad breath. Increased periods of speaking, smoking, drinking alcohol, and snoring are a few common causes. Most people experience bad breath in the morning due to lack of saliva production while they sleep. For healthy individuals, food odors are temporary and normal salivary flow will eliminate them within several minutes. However, those who suffer from dry mouth and lack of saliva find that even minor food odors may lead to long-term issues. Certain drugs such as antidepressants, and antihistamines can factor into dry mouth because they reduce saliva production. (link to dry mouth blog)

Foods: Bad breath can be worsened by certain foods such as onions and garlic because they contain smelly sulfur compounds. Refined and processed sugars also provide a food source for bacteria. Coffee and juices can contribute to this problem because they are acidic and provide these bacteria with an ideal breeding environment.

Poor dental hygiene: Poor dental care can cause bacterial buildup on the teeth and gums. If bacteria are not constantly removed by proper brushing, these bacteria can then develop into something called biofilm, commonly known as dental plaque. When plaque accumulates near the gum line, it can harden and begin destroying teeth and gum tissues due to intense bacterial activity. This leads to gum disease such as gingivitis and periodontitis.

Illness and disease: It is estimated that approximately 10% of all bad breath cases are caused by certain illnesses. Individuals who suffer from diabetes (link to diabetes page) lung disease, kidney disease, cancer, liver disease, respiratory tract infections, or metabolic disorders often experience chronic bad breath due to dry mouth. Sinusitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, postnasal drip, and polyps affect the airways and may also contribute to the problem. Other common illnesses associated with bad breath include nasal odor, tonsil stones and yeast infections of the mouth, and gum disease.

Bad Breath Symptoms:

Bad breath indicates that something is out of balance. It is a medical condition that can lower self-esteem and affects everyday life and personal relationships. People with chronic or recurring bad breath often lose their self-confidence. It can be difficult to know if you have this problem, because it is often challenging to pick up your own scent. Additionally, family members and friends may not feel comfortable telling you. One of the best ways to find out if you have unpleasant smelling breath is to lick the inside of your wrist, wait five seconds, and then smell your wrist.

Most symptoms of bad breath will depend on the underlying cause.  Countless individuals who have bad breath associated with dry mouth can experience difficulty speaking or swallowing, a burning sensation in the mouth, or dry eyes.

Getting a Proper Diagnosis

The best way to truly identify the source of chronic bad breath is to visit a dentist or doctor for a professional diagnosis. When you are ready to tackle this situation, be sure to be open and honest with the healthcare professional performing the examination. It is important for him or her to understand all the health problems you are experiencing in order to determine the underlying cause and recommend an appropriate treatment.

Getting Proper Treatment

Like the symptoms, treatment depends on the underlying cause. It is important to keep in mind that you cannot eliminate the bacteria from the tongue that causes bad breath. Therefore, scraping or brushing the tongue is a temporary solution, and is typically frustrating for those who believe tongue scraping or tongue brushing is a permanent solution.

A simple and clinically proven method in treating bad breath is to disturb the bacteria's chemical production of odors by introducing oxygenating compounds to your oral environment. Oxygen is the natural enemy of the bad breath bacteria that cause this problem because they cannot live in the presence of oxygen.

In general, a dentist will recommend mouthwashes and toothpastes that contain oxygenating agents such as chlorine dioxide or sodium chlorite to neutralize volatile sulfur compounds and help control odor causing bacteria found in the mouth.

Six Bad Breath Home Remedies

The practice of a few, simple, self-care techniques can help to minimize bad breath. Here are a few things you can do at home:

  • Advanced oral care products: Use oral care products such as mouthwashes and toothpastes that have been shown to be effective in fighting bad breath.
  • Proper oral care: Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day. Be sure to get a toothbrush with soft bristles (as to not damage tooth enamel or gums) and also use fluoride toothpaste. Brushing and flossing helps to remove any food and plaque, which, can be used as a fuel source by the sulfur-producing bacteria that are at the root of this problem.
  • Stimulate your salivary flow: Prevent dry mouth with chewing gum, lozenges, or mints that are sugar free.
  • Eat fibrous fruits and vegetables: One of the best ways to remove bacteria in the mouth is to eat an apple a day. It helps moisten the mouth, too.
  • Take a dietary supplement: Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin B are effective at helping your body eliminate excess mucus and toxins naturally.
  • Brush your teeth occasionally with baking soda: The bacteria that cause bad breath thrive in an acidic oral environment. Brushing your teeth with baking soda helps neutralize excess acids found in the oral cavity.

12 Easy Ways to Prevent Bad Breath

Please remember, preventing bad breath is always easier than treating it. By developing the right habits, you can effectively help prevent it.

  • Eat foods rich in fiber: High fiber foods help prevent bad breath. Avoid eating heavily processed foods that contain refined carbohydrates such as cookies, cakes, sweets and ice cream.
  • Use mouthwash: Some mouthwashes or oral rinses are effective at preventing bad breath. However, you should never use alcohol-based mouthwashes because the alcohol will dry out your mouth, which will in turn actually make the problem worse.
  • Drink green and black teas: They contain polyphenols that help eliminate sulfur compounds and reduce oral bacteria.
  • Avoid drying medication: Try to avoid antidepressants, diuretics, pain relievers, and antihistamines unless it is absolutely medically necessary. These drugs inhibit saliva flow and can cause chronic dry mouth.
  • Avoid products with sodium lauryl sulfate or alcohol: Do not use any oral hygiene products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate or alcohol because the alcohol makes the mouth very dry, which is one of the most common causes of bad breath.
  • Clean your mouth after eating meat, fish or dairy products: Practicing consistent and thorough oral hygiene is an effective prevention tool.
  • Stop smoking: Studies have shown that smokers are at higher risk of developing periodontal disease and dry mouth. Learn how quitting smoking can transform your oral health.
  • Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth: Try to address any snoring or sleep apnea issues that could be affecting your breath and causing dry mouth.
  • Drink water: Keep your mouth moist by drinking plenty of water.
  • Clean your dentures at least once a day: Practice the same, proper oral care that you would with your original teeth.
  • Eliminate or limit dairy products from your diet: Lactose intolerance can be an underlying cause of bad breath.

Do you have any more questions about how to prevent and treat bad breath? The experts at Smile Dental Centre are here to help. Book a free consultation or contact us today!

The Smile Dental Centre offers a full range of dental services backed by outstanding patient care for children and adults. The Smile Dental Centre won the Consumer Choice Award five years in a row (2013 – 2017) for general and cosmetic dentistry in the London, ON region. Now that’s something to smile about! 

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