An estimated sixty-five percent of Americans have bad breath.
Over forty-million Americans have "chronic halitosis," which is persistent bad breath.
Ninety percent of all halitosis is of oral, not systemic, origin.
Americans spend more than $1 billion a year on over the counter halitosis products, many of which are ineffective because they only mask the problem.
What causes bad breath?
Bad breath is caused by a variety of factors. In most cases, it is caused by food remaining in the mouth - on the teeth, tongue, gums, and other structures, collecting bacteria. Dead and dying bacterial cells release a sulfur compound that gives your breath an unpleasant odor. Certain foods, such as garlic and onions, contribute to breath odor. Once the food is absorbed into the bloodstream, it is transferred to the lungs, where it is exhaled. Brushing, flossing and mouthwash only mask the odor. Dieters sometimes develop unpleasant breath from fasting.
Periodontal (gum) disease often causes persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth, and persistent bad breath may mean a sign that you have gum disease.
Gum disease is caused by plaque - the sticky, often colorless, film of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth. Dry mouth or xerostomia may also cause bad breath due to decreased salivary flow. Saliva cleans your mouth and removes particles that may cause odor. Tobacco products cause bad breath, stain teeth, reduce your ability to taste foods and irritate your gum tissues. Bad breath may also be a sign that you have a serious health problem, such as a respiratory tract infection, chronic sinusitis, postnasal drip, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, gastrointestinal disturbance, liver or kidney ailment.
Here are characteristic bad breath odors associated with some of these illnesses:
Bad breath may also be caused by medications you are taking, including central nervous system agents, anti-Parkinson drugs, antihistamines/decongestants, anti-psychotics, anti-cholinergics, narcotics, anti-hypertensives, and anti-depressants.
Caring for bad breath
Daily brushing and flossing, and regular professional cleanings, will normally take care of unpleasant breath. And don't forget your often overlooked tongue as a culprit for bad breath. Bacterial plaque and food debris also can accumulate on the back of the tongue. The tongue's surface is extremely rough and bacteria can accumulate easily in the cracks and crevices.
Eliminating periodontal disease and maintaining good oral health helps to reduce bad breath. If you have constant bad breath, make a list of the foods you eat and any medications you take. Some medications may contribute to bad breath.
Improperly cleaned dentures can also harbor odor-causing bacteria and food particles. If you wear removable dentures, take them out at night and clean them thoroughly before replacing them.
If your dentist determines that your mouth is healthy and that the odor is not oral in nature, you may be referred to your family physician or to a specialist to determine the cause of the odor and possible treatment. If the odor is due to gum disease, your dentist can either treat the disease or refer you to a periodontist, a specialist in treating gum tissues. Gum disease can cause gum tissues to pull away from the teeth and form pockets. When these pockets are deep, only a professional periodontal cleaning can remove the bacteria and plaque that accumulate.
Mouthwashes are generally ineffective on bad breath. If your bad breath persists even after good oral hygiene, there are special products your dentist may prescribe, including "Zytex," which is a combination of zinc chloride, thymol and eucalyptus oil that neutralizes the sulfur compounds and kills the bacteria that causes them. In addition, a special antimicrobial mouth rinse may be prescribed. An example is chlorhexidine, but be careful not to use it for more than a few months as it can stain your teeth. Some antiseptic mouth rinses have been accepted by the American Dental Association for their breath freshening properties and therapeutic benefits in reducing plaque and gingivitis. Instead of simply masking breath odor, these products have been demonstrated to kill the germs that cause bad breath. Ask your dentist about trying some of these products.
Saliva is one of your body's natural defenses against plaque because it acts to rinse your mouth of cavity-causing bacteria and other harmful materials. Dry mouth (also called Xerostomia) is a fairly common condition that is caused by diminished saliva production. People with medical conditions, such as an eating disorder or diabetes, are often plagued by dry mouth. Eating foods such as garlic, tobacco use, and some kinds of medications, including treatments such as cancer therapy can diminish the body's production of saliva, leading to dry mouth. Other causes are related to aging (including rheumatoid arthritis), and compromised immune systems.
Some of the less alarming results of dry mouth include bad breath. But dry mouth can lead to more serious problems, including burning tongue syndrome, a painful condition caused by lack of moisture on the tongue.
If dry mouth isn't readily apparent, you may experience other conditions that dry mouth can cause, including an overly-sensitive tongue, chronic thirst or even difficulty in speaking.
If you don't have a medical condition that causes it, dry mouth can be minimized by sipping water regularly, chewing sugarless gum and avoiding smoking. Of course, there is no substitute for regular checkups and good oral hygiene.
Plaque is a film of bacteria that forms on your teeth and gums after eating foods that produce acids. These foods may include carbohydrates (starches and sugars), such as candy and cookies, and starchy foods such as bread, crackers, and cereal.
Tooth decay leads to cavities and occurs when plaque remains on your teeth for an extended period of time, allowing the bacteria to 'eat away' at the surfaces of your teeth and gums. Ironically, the areas surrounding restored portions of teeth (where fillings, or amalgams have been placed) are particularly vulnerable to decay and are a breeding ground for bacteria.
Plaque can lead to gum irritation, soreness, and redness. Sometimes, your gums may begin to bleed as a result of plaque. This gradual degeneration can often cause gums to pull away from teeth. This condition is called receding gums.
Long-term plaque can lead to serious problems. Sometimes, the bacteria can form pockets of disease around tooth structures, eventually destroying the bone beneath the tooth.
Gingivitis is the medical term for early gum disease, or periodontal disease. In general, gum disease can be caused by long-term exposure to plaque, the sticky but colorless film on teeth that forms after eating or sleeping.
Gum disease originates in the gums, where infections form from harmful bacteria and other materials left behind from eating. Early warning signs include chronic bad breath, tender or painful swollen gums and minor bleeding after brushing or flossing. In many cases, however, gingivitis can go unnoticed. The infections can eventually cause the gums to separate from the teeth, creating even greater opportunities for infection and decay.
Although gum disease is the major cause of tooth loss in adults, in many cases it is avoidable.
If gingivitis goes untreated, more serious problems such as abscesses, bone loss or periodontitis can occur.
Periodontitis is treated in a number of ways. One method, called root planing, involved cleaning and scraping below the gum line to smooth the roots. If effective, this procedure helps the gums reattach themselves to the tooth structure.
Pregnancy has also been known to cause a form of gingivitis. This has been linked to hormonal changes in the woman's body that promote plaque production.