Bad breath, medically known as halitosis, can be a delicate subject to discuss. As we continue wearing masks to protect against COVID-19, maybe you’ve noticed your breath isn’t as fresh as it could be. While most cases of bad breath can easily be resolved, it can lead to insecurity and anxiety and may even be an indication of a more serious health issue.
There are countless home remedies, mouthwashes, and chewing gums on the market that claim to solve bad breath. But it’s important to understand the underlying causes and ways to prevent bad breath to ensure your mouth stays healthy and smelling fresh, or to know when you should make an appointment to see your doctor.
Though 90 percent of bad breath cases originate in the mouth and throat, many factors can cause it. Some of the most common include:
Poor Dental Hygiene: Daily brushing and flossing are important to keep your teeth and mouth clean. When you do not keep up with regular dental hygiene practices, debris and bacteria can linger and cause bad breath. It is also important to regularly see your dentist for a deeper clean and ensure that your overall dental health is in order.
Food: The breakdown of food particles in the mouth can create bacteria and result in bad breath. Also, foods such as garlic, onions, and spices enter the bloodstream and carry into the lungs after digestion, where they can affect your breath even hours after eating.
Dry Mouth: Dry mouth can also lead to bad breath. Saliva washes away food particles in the mouth that cause odor, so a lack of saliva can hinder your ability to keep your mouth clean. However, chronic dry mouth can indicate a more serious medical condition that needs special attention, so you should notify your doctor if this issue persists.
Medications: Some medications can result in bad breath by causing cases of dry mouth. Medications can also cause bad breath by releasing certain chemicals that affect your breath. It’s important to tell your doctor if you are experiencing these side effects, as there might be alternative treatment options.
Infection: Surgical wounds, tooth removal, tooth decay, gum disease, or other infections can sometimes lead to bad breath if not treated properly.
Tobacco: Smoking and chewing tobacco can result in an unpleasant odor and can lead to gum disease, increasing your risk for bad breath.
In rare cases, bad breath can stem from conditions such as metabolic disorders, chronic sinus inflammation, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The best way to prevent bad breath is to practice good oral hygiene. This will also help reduce the risk of cavities and gum disease, further benefitting your overall health. Brushing your teeth after you eat, using anti-bacterial mouth rinses, flossing regularly, brushing your tongue, and cleaning your dentures or other dental appliances can reduce the bacteria that cause bad breath.
Additionally, drinking plenty of water, adjusting your diet to avoid onions, garlic, or sugary foods, and regularly switching out your toothbrush can help keep your mouth clean and breath fresh.
If adjusting your hygiene routine doesn’t improve breath odor, it may be time to see your doctor. Bad breath can also be a warning sign for rare medical conditions, including:
Ketoacidosis: This occurs when insulin levels in a person with diabetes get too low, and their bodies begin to break down fat. Your body normally produces ketones when breaking down fat, but it can be poisonous and produce an unpleasant breath odor when ketones are found in large groups. This condition is potentially life-threatening and should be treated by a doctor.
Bronchiectasis: Bronchiectasis is a lung condition resulting from an infection or medical condition, such as pneumonia or cystic fibrosis. Airways widen and thicken, often causing infection and allowing for mucus buildup, resulting in bad breath.
Aspiration Pneumonia: This is a complication of pulmonary aspiration, where you inhale food, stomach acid, or saliva into your lungs. The resulting swelling or infection of the lungs or airways can lead to bad breath, especially without proper interventions.
Bad breath is a common condition that affects many Americans. If you are taking steps to prevent it and don’t see noticeable improvements, you should speak with your doctor. Your Atrius Health provider can help you determine the most appropriate next steps.