Feel like bad breath is coming from your throat? Did you know that bad breath is not a singular disease, and can be caused by dozens of different kinds of bacteria that can cause bad breath from your gums, your tongue, your tonsils, and even your saliva? The good news is you’ve come to the right place to get it solved!
Why is bad breath coming from my throat?
The vast majority (90%) of bad breath is caused by specific microbes in the oral cavity. These microbes create smelly compounds like volatile sulfur compounds (hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan), and volatile organic compounds (putrescine, cadaverine). Unfortunately, there are dozens of different species of these microbes that can cause bad breath, and each of them thrives in a different location. This can often make it difficult to understand where your bad breath is coming from and why your daily hygiene routine isn’t helping.
Bad breath from the back of the throat is often actually from the far back of the tongue, called the tongue dorsum. Your tongue has many crypts where bacteria can grow undisturbed and in an environment that best allows them to create stinky compounds: in the absence of oxygen.
For the most part, bacteria that cause bad breath are anaerobic, meaning they can only grow in the absence of oxygen. As they grow, they ferment the sugar and protein in your saliva and create the smelly compounds described above. These bacteria are able to grow to high levels in your mouth because you lack the beneficial bacteria that normally occupy those spaces. These beneficial bacteria don’t cause bad breath! This condition of microbial imbalance is referred to as oral microbiome dysbiosis.
So which bacteria live on the back of the tongue?
Bacteria like Solobacterium moorei, Atopobium parvula, Leptotrichia wadei, and Peptostreptococcus stomatis all have been found on the tongue from people with persistent bad breath.
In contrast, people with bad breath coming from the gums may have an overabundance of Porphyromonas gingivalis, Tannerella forsythia, or Treponema denticola.
This is why flossing and brushing doesn’t always help, and other methods like tongue scraping can improve bad breath.
How can you be sure bad breath is coming from your throat?
Bad breath can originate from your throat, gums, tonsils, cheeks, and even the salivary glands under your tongue. This is because different communities of bacteria can thrive in each of these locations. So how can you be sure that bad breath is coming from your throat?
Touch the back of your tongue
And now smell! Compare this to the smell of used floss. Which one smells worse? There’s your answer! Not very scientific though, right? So how about a more data-driven way to tell if you have bad breath coming from your throat?
Take an oral microbiome test
The best way to be sure the types of bacteria that are causing your bad breath is by taking a comprehensive oral microbiome test. Not only will it help identify which species are causing your problems, but also which beneficial bacteria you are lacking, and which recommendations science says are best at fixing your issue of bad breath from the throat.
How can you cure bad breath from the throat?
First, use a tongue scraper. This will remove the protective biofilm that allows bacteria that coat the tongue. By removing the biofilm, you are exposing anaerobic bacteria to oxygen, and also allowing other products like mouthwashes to attack these bacteria.
Second, use a mouthrinse that kills anaerobic bacteria. Without their biofilm, bacteria are now more susceptible to chemicals from mouthwash, such as chlorine dioxide or hydrogen peroxide, both of which have powerful activity against anerobic bacteria by causing oxidative stress.
Third, use a series of probiotics to restore your oral microbiome. Streptococcus salivarius and Lactobacillus reuteri have both been shown to help combat bad breath causing bacteria that live on the tongue. Additionally, these will help boost the beneficial bacteria in your mouth so that they can colonize the back of your throat instead of the bad bacteria. You can read more about the best probiotics for oral health here.
Fourth, eat more nitrate containing foods to keep the beneficial bacteria high. Nitrate is a prebiotic that boosts good bacteria that prevent oral microbiome dysbiosis. You can read more about the best diets to improve your oral microbiome here.