Dealing with chronically bad breath
Bad breath is a problem that affects everyone at some point in his or her life. When it is a persistent problem, it leads to problems with self-esteem and can affect your social life. It can even affect your professional life.
You should never ignore bad breath as it could indicate a serious dental problem. It can be difficult to tell if you have bad breath, so we must trust loved ones to inform us if they notice a problem.
What Causes Bad Breath?
The source of all bad breath is bacteria. Certain types of bacteria produce foul-smelling gases as a by-product of their metabolism. The more bacteria that are present in a specific area, the stronger smell they produce. In the mouth, these bacteria accumulate in colonies that live in dental plaque. Plaque can collect on the teeth, between the teeth and gums, in deep grooves on the tongue, and in the tonsils.
There are also bacteria producing smelly gases in the nasal passages, sinus cavities, airway, lungs, and stomach. Because all of these locations connect to the mouth, the gases often come out when you exhale, causing bad breath. Anything that leads to an increase in bacterial levels can result in bad breath.
The most common source of bad breath is dental infections. Dental diseases, including both cavities and gum disease, result from the bacteria in dental plaque. As they progress, more and more bacteria collect, leading to worsening breath.
It is also possible to have bad breath in the absence of dental disease. Certain conditions can lead to an increase in the total amount of bacteria in the mouth. Dry mouth is a good example of this. When the body lacks the appropriate amount of saliva to fight plaque, the bacteria accumulate very easily. People with a dry mouth tend to have heavy plaque buildup on the teeth and gums. This increases the risk for bad breath.
Other anatomical conditions can give a higher risk for bad breath. Some people have many deep grooves and pits on the surface of the tongue. These areas collect plaque and are difficult to clean. Another common anatomical site for plaque collection is in the pitted surface of the tonsils. This is not an area you can brush, so vigorous swishing or gargling is necessary for cleaning.
What Type of Doctor Should I See About Bad Breath?
More than ninety percent of bad breath originates in the oral cavity. That means that persistent bad breath likely results from a dental problem, and a dentist is the first doctor you should see in order to address it. Your dentist will diagnose any active dental diseases contributing to the bad odor and explain your options for treatment. The dentist can also identify non-disease areas of plaque buildup and ways to remove them.
If your dentist rules out an oral cause of bad breath, you should then see your medical doctor. The doctor will screen you for problems in the nasal passages, airway, and GI tract. If needed, your doctor can refer you to a specialist to address any areas of infection. For example, those who suffer from chronic sinus infections have a high risk for bad breath and may need treatment by an ENT. Some patients with stomach infections should see a gastroenterologist for treatment.
What Can I Do About Bad Breath?
There are several important steps you can take to address persistent bad breath, and it will typically require implementation of all of them to achieve long-term success.
- Improve Your Oral Hygiene
The first and most important step in treating bad breath is removing dental plaque. Plaque builds up on the teeth and gums every single day, so your oral hygiene routine should be effective and consistent. A great oral hygiene regimen includes brushing twice a day, preferably once after breakfast and once before bed, and flossing every night. Flossing is an essential step in plaque removal, and you cannot expect to improve bad breath if you do not floss.
Consider adding an alcohol-free mouthwash that you can vigorously swish or gargle to remove collections of plaque from the tongue and tonsils. Some people like using a tongue cleaner. Just make sure it is a soft, flexible one that will not damage the delicate tissues of the tongue.
- Schedule a Professional Teeth Cleaning
No matter how skilled you are with plaque removal at home, you are probably missing some areas. When you do not remove plaque and it remains on the teeth for more than 24 hours, it begins to harden into calculus (also called tartar). Once it hardens, you cannot remove it by yourself.
During a professional teeth cleaning, a dental hygienist or dentist uses specialized instruments to remove both soft plaque and hard tartar from the teeth and gums. This removes all of the bacteria contained in plaque and tartar, which is the source of a great portion of bad breath. When you have professional teeth cleanings on a consistent basis, you prevent large amounts of bacteria from accumulating, thus preventing bad breath.
- Fight Dry Mouth
Dry mouth can be a serious contributor to bad breath. In order to fight it, you can take a few important steps. Stay hydrated. Your body cannot make saliva if you are dehydrated. Chew sugar-free gum to simulate the release of saliva into the mouth. Avoid beverages that dehydrate you, like caffeine, alcohol and high-sugar drinks.
If you take multiple prescription medications, you might need to speak with your doctor about adjusting dosages to reduce dry mouth as a side effect.
- Treat any Active Dental Disease
If you have cavities or gum disease, treat them as soon as possible. The worse cavities and gum disease get, the more bacteria you have in your mouth, and the worse your breath can be. By catching these dental problems and treating them early, you stop the over-proliferation of bacteria and the stinky gases they produce.
When you choose not to treat dental diseases, the bacteria multiply and fill in the cavities or the gaps between teeth and gums. The cavities get bigger and bigger, or the pockets between the teeth and gums get deeper, leading to more and more accumulation of bacteria. The result: bad breath.
More Questions about Bad Breath?
If you have more questions about bad breath or suspect that you might have a dental problem that is causing yours, call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location now! We will schedule you for a consultation with one of our board-certified dentists and a professional teeth cleaning with our dental hygienists. We can determine the cause of your bad breath or rule out dental causes and refer you to your medical doctor.