Bad Breath: Is it from that garlic toast, or something more?
“Care for a breath mint?” If you’ve ever been offered a mint or piece of gum not long after having a conversation, you may have worried that you have bad breath. Or, maybe you’ve been the one to offer a freshening agent to someone nearby who suffers from lingering, unpleasant mouth odor. What exactly causes bad breath, and what can be done about it? Is it just from something we recently ate, or is there a deeper issue occurring? Here are some facts about bad breath and how to combat it:
- Halitosis. According to WebMD, most bad breath, or halitosis, originates in the mouth from food debris in the gums, between the teeth or from the bacteria in our mouth that creates compounds that emit odor. If you don’t brush or floss enough, bacteria can build up on the tongue and around the teeth and gums and cause an unpleasant odor when you open your mouth. To help with halitosis, brush and floss more frequently and between meals. Simply flossing can remove much of the food particles that collect in your mouth. You can also try scraping your tongue. If you wear orthodontics, it’s really important to brush carefully. Your braces provide food and bacteria even more places to hide.
- Certain foods. Some foods, such as garlic and onions, leave lasting odor in the mouth and also get absorbed into the bloodstream. Bad odors are then emitted not only from the mouth but from the lungs and esophagus. You can use mouthwash and breath mints to mask the food odor, but until the food passes through your system, the odor will probably linger. This can take up to 24 hours. So choose your food carefully! If you do eat a meal with ingredients that might cause bad breath later on, follow it up by drinking a large glass of water or eating an apple to help clean out your mouth and digestive tract.
- Allergies and post-nasal drip. Certain antihistamines for allergies or a cold can cause your mouth to dry out and have a bad odor. You may also be experiencing post nasal drip, which causes mucus to collect in your throat and sinuses and causes bad breath. To help with this odor, you can try gargling with salt water or taking a steamy shower to moisturize and clear up your throat and sinus areas.
- Smoking or sleep apnea. Smoking can cause bad breath, as it dries out the mouth and throat and leaves behind smoky nicotine residue. Consider kicking the habit. Sleep apnea may cause you to sleep with your mouth open, drying out your mouth and causing bad breath. If you suspect that you may not be sleeping well, or if a partner or family member comments on your snoring, you may want to talk to your doctor about a sleep study to investigate further.
- Ulcers, hunger, heartburn. An ulcer is a sore that develops on the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine, according to the Mayo Clinic. This sore can be the cause of bad odor that travels up the digestive tract and to your mouth. Heartburn can also be a cause of bad breath, and even an empty stomach can cause a foul odor. It’s important to know your body and to take note of other pains or symptoms in your body that might need medical attention. By treating your greater health problems, your bad breath may be resolved.
- Diabetes. People who suffer from diabetes are at higher risk of gum disease from elevated levels of sugar. More sugar in the mouth provides the perfect stage for bacteria to prosper and proliferate. If you suffer from diabetes or are at risk of developing it, be aware that bad breath might be an unpleasant side effect. Talk with your dentist or medical care provider about finding ways to have better oral health as a diabetes patient.
“If you’re worried about having bad breath, start by improving your mouth hygiene,” explains Robert Boonyaputthikul DO, a family medicine practitioner with PIH Health.
“Improve your teeth brushing and flossing habits by spending more time and doing a thorough job—don’t just mask your breath with mints and mouthwash. If you’re keeping up with good oral care and still suffer from bad breath, talk with your family practitioner about other possible causes related to your overall health. There are solutions, so don’t lose hope.”
To make an appointment with a PIH Health Primary Care Physician, visit PIHHealth.org/Find-a-doctor.