bad breath

How to get rid of bad breath

We all get bad breath occasionally, but this embarrassing condition can sometimes linger longer than we’d like. Luckily, though, there are usually things we can do to remedy bad breath. Here’s what you need to know.

Bad breath (medically named halitosis) is mainly caused by an overgrowth of smelly sulphur-producing bacteria. This bacteria predominantly lives in the throat and the surface of our tongue. Sometimes, the bacteria start to break down proteins at a very high rate, releasing volatile sulphur compounds (VSC). And this creates an unpleasant smell.

There are several reasons for bacteria to multiply in the mouth and cause bad breath:

  • Poor oral hygiene – Failing to brush and floss your teeth encourages bacteria to feed off residual sugars, starches and food debris left in the mouth.
  • Gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis) – Poor oral hygiene can lead to pockets of damaging infections along the gum line.
  • Tooth abscesses – Abscesses are caused by a bacterial infection.

Other causes of bad breath

Sometimes, other health conditions or lifestyle factors can contribute to bad breath. These are usually caused by creating an environment that encourages a buildup of bacteria, such as:

  • Smoking – Smoking starves the mouth of oxygen, allowing bacteria to multiply.
  • Dry mouth – Saliva helps wash bacteria and food particles away. Without enough saliva, bacteria can proliferate.
  • Postnasal discharge – e.g. From chronic sinusitis, a bacterial infection

And occasionally, there are other factors, conditions or diseases that can contribute to bad breath:

  • Acid and bile reflux – These can have an unpleasant smell.
  • Kidney failure, carcinomas, metabolic dysfunctions, biochemical disorders — These account for only a tiny percentage of bad breath sufferers.
  • Foods – Garlic, onions or cauliflower, for example, induce certain odours. However, their effects are short-lived.

How to treat bad breath

There is no single golden rule for treating bad breath; it depends on what has caused it. But bad breath is usually treatable once you’ve addressed the cause.

A bacterial buildup will only happen if you have poor oral hygiene habits (as you fail to remove sugars and starches that bacteria feed on) or suffer some infection (for example, a gum infection or abscess).

Maintaining excellent oral hygiene is possible through the following:

  • Brushing twice daily with a soft bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste
  • Flossing once daily
  • Using mouthwash (if recommended by your dentist)

You can also keep your mouth clean by the following:

  • Rinse your mouth with water several times daily and drinking plenty of fluoridated tap water.
  • Gentle tongue cleaning/scraping will also help keep bacteria away. You can use this tongue scraper or your toothbrush, brushing gently but thoroughly from the back to the front of the tongue.
  • If you suffer from chronic sinusitis, you may find that a nasal spray helps. Additionally, you may need to speak to your doctor about a course of antibiotics that are effective against anaerobic bacteria to reduce the overgrowth of sulphur-producing bacteria on the back of your tongue and throat.

If you’re concerned about your bad breath, speak to your dentist or dental hygienist. They can examine your teeth and gums to see if there is a reason for your halitosis and chat with you about oral hygiene habits and techniques.