Nothing could be more embarrassing when someone either rudely or politely tells you that an unfriendly odour emanates from your mouth. It is bad breath. The condition chokes the people around the person who suffers it. The realisation of the implication demoralises the sufferer, in no small measure.
Bad breath can easily be avoided if appropriate proactive measures are taken to achieve a high level of oral hygiene. Dentists come to the rescue when in dire need of a solution to oral health challenges.
Much like any bodily odour, chronic bad breath, medically known as halitosis, can be tackled with hygiene and the right knowledge. According to experts, most bad breath originates from the gums and tongue, either naturally caused by dental issue or sheer negligence on the part of the individual. The condition can also be made worse by the types of foods one eats and other unhealthy lifestyle habits.
In a statistics release in 2017, American Health Monitor puts the number of people affected by bad breath at about 100 million globally. It also said one out of four people battles with one mouth odour or another.
A South African dentist, who works at New Lane Clinics, Johannesburg, Joe Napoleon, simply put it this way: “Bad breath can result from poor dental health habits and may be a sign of other health problems.”
Common causes bad breath
The most common reason that anyone suffers from halitosis is a dry mouth. A dry mouth occurs because you haven’t been drinking enough water or you have been sleeping or travelling, in which case your body slows down the production of saliva.
Napoleon explains that a dry mouth usually leads to dead cells on the tongue, which bacteria break down, and the process emits a foul odour commonly called bad breath. Indeed, bad breath is usually caused by one’s tongue, although the same process of bacteria breaking down dead cells and food bits can occur in other parts of one’s mouth, like with food stuck in the teeth.
Another major reason is when you are not brushing your teeth carefully. In that case, the same bacteria will build up on your teeth and emanate an odour again.
The United Kingdom’s National Health identifies food people eat as another common reason for bad breath. Typical examples are garlic, onion and some native foods. We are familiar with garlic or onion breath or the odour of a smoker.
Also, crash-dieting and fasting can cause bad breath, as the body breaks down fat and releases ketones, which can be smelled.
In addition, there are also medical conditions that can cause bad breath, like xerostomia (dry mouth caused by medication or mouth-breathing), throat and lung infections, kidney or liver diseases, diabetes, and more.
Ways to check if you have bad breath
The fastest and first step to battling the social embarrassment of bad breath, of course, is self-examination rather than waiting for someone to draw your attention to it. The condition, as experts point out, usually starts with the tongue. Therefore, that’s the first point to check.
According to Dr. Harold Katz, bacteriologist and founder of the California Breath Clinic, in the United States of America, for a visual check, a pink and shiny tongue is certified to be good, while a white and scaly one is bad.
“If you have a spoon handy, you can find out by scraping the back of your tongue with the tip of the spoon, letting it dry, and then smelling it. If you have any of these or suspect you do, it’s best to consult a doctor,” he advises.
Dr. Katz also said cupping your hands in front of your mouth and blowing doesn’t work. In his interview with the Cable Network News (CNN), he said licking your hand was a better way of detecting bad breath.
According to him, “smelling your own breath in cupped hands is not the best way to check for halitosis. Instead, lick the back of your hand, let it dry for a few seconds, and then perceive the surface.
“There are other ways of testing the back of your tongue too, like cotton swabs or dental floss, but the point is this: that is where the bad breath originates; so that’s what you need to check.”
Solutions to bad breath
Here’s the bad news: There is no long-term, one-size-fits-all solution to fixing bad breath. Much like eating well, you need to keep at it regularly.
Since halitosis is caused due to different reasons, the fixes are all temporary and need to be repeated to combat halitosis. However, doing them regularly does reduce how rancid your breath gets and how quickly bad breath builds up in your mouth.
Check what you eat
With food, you can always be a little mindful of what you are eating. If you just ate something loaded with garlic and onions, chances are people want to stand a couple of feet away from you while talking. Knowing you have eaten foods that stink, run through some precautionary hygiene measures to fix your breath.
Drink water regularly
Experts maintain that this is one of the easiest and cheapest approaches to arrest bad breath. Bacteria build up when you have a dry mouth and the obvious way to combat this is to drink water regularly. If your mouth stays hydrated and is producing saliva regularly, you reduce the chances of bad breath.
Use tongue scrapers
Different studies reveal that there is nothing as effective as cleaning the back of your tongue regularly. If you can, people have been advised to clean it after every meal. Tongue scrapers are best for a quick fix.
Though there is no standard treatment, bacteria-causing halitosis can be reduced by brushing or scraping the middle and back of the tongue. Tongue scraping can lower the concentration of volatile sulphur compounds, subsequently reducing oral malodour.
Rinse with mouthwash
For corporate workers, if brushing your teeth and scraping your tongue do not fit the decorum of your office, you can turn to rinsing with mouthwash. Rinsing and gargling is better at washing away bacteria than chewing gum or popping a mint. However, this is still a temporary fix and not as thorough as scraping your tongue.
To get the most out of it, you need to rinse for 30 seconds and not eat or smoke for 30 minutes after as these practices will dilute the fluoride and rinse it away.
Measure the proper amount of rinse as specified on the container or as instructed by your dentist. With your lips closed and the teeth kept slightly apart, swish the liquid around with as much force as possible. Many rinses suggest swishing for 30 seconds or more. Finally, thoroughly spit the liquid from your mouth.
Bacteria can break down food stuck between your teeth, and emit a foul odour. Flossing regularly helps remove any food particles. While your tongue is going to be the main problem, flossing regularly is also necessary to deal with bad breath. So floss, and do it right.
Pop some mints/chew gum
Most people will probably carry mints or chewing gum as an easy way to freshen your breath, but you should know that this effect is temporary and won’t last as long as rinsing with mouthwash or scrubbing your tongue.
More importantly, dentists advise that if you do need mints, oral strips are your best bet with no health implications.
Eat breath-friendly foods
Dr. Katz said there are also certain foods you can eat to combat bad breath. The foods are green tea, which has anti-bacterial properties that knock out the stink and cinnamon that contains essential oils that kill many types of oral bacteria. Try adding fresh cinnamon to your morning toast or oatmeal, or adding a stick to flavour your tea.
“Eating crisp fruits and vegetables, such as celery or apples, offer dual bad-breath-busting benefits. Chewing them will produce more saliva in your mouth, and the firm texture will also help scrub away bacteria. Melons, oranges and berries also help,” Katz said.