What causes bad breath, and what to do about it?

Kamaldeep Singh -

Bad breath, or halitosis, is a common condition that regularly affects 50-65% of people of all ages, and its symptoms can extend to decreased self-confidence and anxiety in social interactions.

In most cases, bad breath is temporary, such as after eating foods with a strong odor. Yet, it could also be a signal of a chronic infection driven by bacteria in the mouth or throat. Thankfully, you can often combat these bacteria by leveraging the body's natural defense: saliva. All you need to do is to follow simple oral hygiene recommendations.

Let’s take a look at bad breath causes and the importance of oral health care.

Common bad breath causes

When certain bacteria build up on our teeth, tongue, and tonsils, they produce compounds that contain an unpleasant odor. The most common reason for bad breath is bacterial buildup due to decreased saliva – hyposalivation. 

Dry mouth

Harmful bacteria (or microbes) can typically only survive in our mouth if they manage to hold on and not get swallowed. Saliva contains proteins that stick to the bacteria and act as a natural rinse to remove harmful bodies. These proteins include lysozymes that attack bacteria's cell walls and make them burst, and antibodies, that prevent bacteria from settling onto our teeth and tongue. In addition, saliva promotes healthy (non-acid causing) bacteria by providing nitrate, feeding beneficial microbes that kill the acid-producing (and odorous) kind.

So what gives us dry mouth?

  1. When we sleep, our saliva flow nearly stops  – which is why we often experience bad breath when we wake up. 
  2. Certain medicines – particularly antianxiety drugs that people suffering from social anxiety may use.
  3. Drinking alcohol – like certain medicines, alcohol works as a diuretic that tells our kidneys not to absorb the water.
  4. Dehydration – lack of liquid, in general, will minimize our saliva flow as we don’t have enough fluid to produce the saliva we need.
  5. Missing meals – chewing increases saliva in the mouth, while certain foods high in water like cucumber and soups can promote hydration. 

Other causes

Scientists have associated the bacteria that gives us halitosis with infections like gum disease, which can have side effects like bleeding gums and tooth loss.

But it’s not just your oral health that could be affected – bad breath can be a warning sign for more severe bodily conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer's. The importance of oral health care affects bad breath, mouth, and overall health. When experiencing persistent bad breath, it's always best to visit a dentist or take an oral bacteria test to assess the microbes in your mouth. 

How to get rid of bad breath

One of the most crucial yet straightforward oral hygiene recommendations to boost saliva and relieve halitosis is to stay well hydrated throughout the day. In addition, consider crunchy vegetables that stimulate chewing or using sugar-free gum (or mints) – typically, those containing xylitol will increase saliva production.

Maintaining a proper oral hygiene routine with daily brushing, flossing, and tongue scraping also helps with preventing a buildup of bad breath causing bacteria

Mouthwash can temporarily help us get rid of bad breath. However, the best mouthwash for halitosis may differ from one person to another. And although it kills harmful bacteria, it can also kill good microbes, which are beneficial to our health, especially as the harmful microbes tend to replenish quickly after use.

We each have a different community of bacteria in our mouths (oral microbiome), so we must understand our specific microbe diversity to protect our oral health. Knowing our natural bacteria levels can support our ability to complement them, such as with certain foods and lifestyle behaviors.

Reviewing our oral health care routine is essential to reduce harmful bacteria, minimize bad breath, and prevent more serious infections such as gum disease.

At Bristle, we test your saliva and give you a report of your microbiome and disease risk with personalized oral hygiene recommendations designed to work best for you.

Get your oral bacteria test kit today.

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