A main problem with bad breath is that the only person not to notice it is the person affected. (You get used to your own smell and do not tend to notice your own bad breath.) Often, the only way to know about it is if a person comments on it. However, most people are too polite to comment on another person’s bad breath. You may have to rely on a family member or a close friend to be honest and tell you if you have bad breath.
Some people suggest a simple test which you can do yourself to detect bad breath. Lick the inside of your wrist. Wait a few seconds for the saliva to dry. Then smell the licked part of the wrist. If you detect an unpleasant smell you are likely to have bad breath.
Causes of bad breath
Most cases of bad breath come from problems within the mouth such as poor oral hygiene or gum disease.
Morning bad breath
Most people have some degree of bad breath after a nights sleep. This is normal and occurs because the mouth tends to get dry and stagnate overnight. This usually clears when the flow of saliva increases soon after starting to eat breakfast.
Foods, drinks and medicines
Chemicals in foods can get into the bloodstream, and then be breathed out from the lungs. Most people are familiar with the smell of garlic, spicy foods and alcoholic drinks on the breath of people who have recently eaten or drunk these. This type of bad breath is temporary and easily cured by not eating the food.
Most non-smokers can tell if a person is a smoker by their breath which ‘smells like an ashtray’. Stopping smoking is the only cure for this type of bad breath. Smoking also increases the risk of developing gum disease, another cause of bad breath.
Crash dieting or fasting
Causes a ‘sickly sweet smell’ on the breath. This is due to chemicals called ketones being made by the breakdown of fat.
Gum disease is a common cause of bad breath. Some people with nose problems can get bad breath. Lung or tonsil infections are sometimes a cause. Other causes are rare.
Bad breath coming from within the mouth
As mentioned, in most people who have bad breath the bad smell is thought to come from bacteria within the mouth. As the bacteria break down proteins and other debris in the mouth, they release foul smelling gases. One or more of the following may contribute to the build up of bacteria and bad breath.
- Food stuck between teeth. The food then rots and becomes riddled with bacteria. Regular flossing can clear and prevent this problem.
- Plaque, calculus and gum disease. It forms when bacteria combine with food and saliva. PCalculus, sometimes called tartar, is hardened calcified plaque.
- Coating on the back of the tongue. In some people, a ‘coating’ develops on the back part of the tongue. The coating can contain many bacteria.
The treatment of bad breath coming from within the mouth is good oral hygiene.
Routine oral hygiene – a cure for most cases of bad breath
It is important to get into a regular habit of good oral hygiene – in particular teeth brushing and flossing.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Spend at least two minutes brushing, covering all areas (the inside, outside, and biting areas of each tooth). Pay particular attention to where the teeth meet the gum. Get a new toothbrush every 3-4 months.
Floss your teeth at least once a day after brushing.
The gums may bleed a little when you first begin to floss.
Other general tips
Other things which are important to keep your teeth and gums healthy are:
- If you smoke, try to stop. Gum disease is more common in smokers than non-smokers.
- Eat a well balanced healthy diet. In particular, you should limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks that you have.
- Have regular dental checks at intervals recommended by your dentist (this is normally at least once a year).