Halitosis (Bad Breath) 101
Halitosis itself may not be life threatening, but it could be the symptom of a medical condition you should address for your overall health and well-being. Bad breath (fetor oris) is a fetid odor that is present when you exhale and is mostly caused by bacteria along and below the gum line and on the back of the tongue.
A proper dental checkup may reveal you have gum disease or tooth decay. If no dental condition is present, you may suffer from another condition such as sinus problems, throat, lungs, stomach, esophagus or nasal cavity issues.
Rarely is halitosis the sign of a serious medical problem and most of the time it can be addressed with the proper oral hygiene – such as proper brushing and flossing of teeth and scraping the back of the tongue to remove odor-causing bacteria.
Bad breath is a social problem and can make you anxious about going out and meeting or being around people. It’s a condition which can usually be corrected easily with a little time and effort, so you simply need to find out the causes, diagnosis and treatment procedures to eliminate halitosis from your life.
Your Mouth Is a Hotbed of Bacteria
In over 90% of halitosis cases, the problem lies within the mouth and is referred to as oral malodor, intra-oral halitosis or oral halitosis. Over 600 varied types of bacteria can be found in an average mouth and they may be living and breeding on the back of the tongue or beneath the gum line.
The bacteria are produced by the transformation of proteins into amino acids, which then break down into gases, causing the foul odor from the mouth. The tongue is the main breeding ground for these bacteria, but other areas of the mouth may also contribute.
For example, faulty dental work, food gathering areas between and in the teeth, abscesses, dirty dentures and lesions caused by viral infections such as Herpes and the HPV virus may contribute to the reasons for halitosis.
Less exposure to oxygen is the reason why the mouth is prone to the moist, bacteria-growing conditions which can produce a foul odor. When you’re sleeping, the mouth is exposed to even less oxygen, causing the condition known as “morning breath.”
Morning breath happens when you’re sleeping because the body produces less saliva at night to wash away food and odors. The mouth is dryer and dead cells adhere to your tongue and elsewhere inside the mouth. Bacteria then use these decaying cells for food and a bad odor is the result.
Bad breath may also be caused from certain foods you eat such as onions, garlic, fish, cheese and meats. Smoking and alcohol are also contributors to halitosis, but may be eliminated completely by proper brushing and flossing of teeth or using a special mouthwash.
Halitosis isn’t usually a health concern and can be treated by certain changes in oral hygiene and lifestyle habits. Regular dental visits and cleaning are necessary to detect cavities or periodontal (gum) disease.
Dry mouth, internal diseases, infections and fasting or dieting may also contribute to bad breath and should be addressed immediately by a dentist or healthcare provider. Problems such as a sore or inflamed throat, sinus, acid reflux and respiratory infections can also be culprits of halitosis, but these are usually temporary conditions.
Signs of an infection within the mouth might be causing a bad breath problem. If you experience red or swollen gums and they bleed profusely after flossing or brushing, you may have gingivitis or another type of gum infection.
If you notice an abscess (pocket of pus) at the gum line of a tooth or between teeth or have loose teeth or dentures, you may be suffering from a bacterial infection. Also, open sores on the gums or tongue that may or may not be painful are likely to emit a foul odor.
Some women experience bad breath during their menstrual cycles – and keep in mind that certain medications may cause dry mouth, which increases bacterial growth in the mouth.
Fasting, stress and anxiety may also cause dry mouth or other conditions that contribute to halitosis. Certain medical conditions may also result in dry mouth – for example, you may have a salivary gland condition that makes you have to breathe from your mouth.
Symptoms of dry mouth include difficulty when speaking, cavities, difficult swallowing foods, burning in the mouth area and dry eyes. Be sure to drink lots of water every day to keep your mouth hydrated – and use sugar-free gums and mints to stimulate the salivary glands.
Other than mouth and tongue issues, there are a few more conditions you should know about when attempting to diagnose your halitosis problem. And, keep in mind that you may not even know you have bad breath because the odor-detectors in your nose could condition itself to the smell.
Ask your dentist or a family member or close friend for the truth and then take action to fix the problem.
Other Symptoms and Causes of Halitosis
It’s rare that a serious illness can cause bad breath, but occasionally, halitosis may occur because of conditions such as diabetes, liver or lung disease, acid reflux, sinus problems and kidney disease or kidney failure.
If you experience a sore throat, fever, swollen glands in the neck area, runny or stuffy nose that includes a yellow or green discharge or a mucus-producing cough, chances are you also have halitosis.
A checkup by a doctor or dentist may reveal certain issues by the nature of the breath odor. For example, if your breath produces a urine type of odor, you may need to be tested for kidney disease or failure.
When your breath is noticed to have a fruit-like odor, it could be the sign of diabetes. Other conditions include acid reflux disease (GERD) or chronic liver or kidney disease. Call a dentist for an appointment if your bad breath seems to be related to dental problems, and call a doctor if you suspect physical reasons.
The nose and sinus region is also a hotbed of bacteria. Breath produced from the nostrils has a different odor that that produced from the mouth and could be caused by a sinus infection or foreign elements inside the nose.
Stomach issues such as reflux aren’t common as a cause for halitosis, but when the contents of the stomach are involuntarily brought up into the esophagus, it produces a flow of gas and odors from substances within the stomach and bad breath will occur.
The tonsils (tonsillitis) have long been thought to be the next most common cause of halitosis after the mouth. Chronic caseous tonsillitis is emitted from the tonsils in the form of a cheese-like substance causing inflammation and sometimes abscesses and causing the resulting halitosis.
Systemic diseases such as diabetes, carcinoma, respiratory (bronchial and lung) infections, liver failure, renal failure, trimethylaminuria (fish odor) syndrome, diabetes and certain types of metabolic conditions could cause bad breath, but are rare occurrences in the general population.
Only a small section of the adult population may suffer from a condition called delusional halitosis. This is a condition where the person affected thinks he has bad breath and may even seek professional advice for it.
It’s a much exaggerated condition where the person is positive he has halitosis and his life becomes affected by it, even though those around him do not notice any sign of foul smelling breath.
Testing and Seeking Help for Halitosis
A visit to the dentist should be your first option for seeking testing and help if you suspect or know you have bad breath. The dentist will review your dental and medical history, including medications you might be taking that could cause dry mouth.
The dentist will also thoroughly examine your teeth, gums, salivary glands and the mouth condition. You’ll also be evaluated for bad breath by exhaling from your nose and mouth.
If the dentist suspects a medical issue, you’ll be referred to your family doctor – or, in some cases of gum disease – you’ll be referred to a periodontist who speciali