Bad breath, or halitosis, is a common disorder that can afflict any person at any stage in life (1). In many cases it's temporary, caused from eating strong smelling foods or as a result of a dry mouth, though for some people bad breath is an enduring, not to mention embarrassing condition (1). Furthermore, findings from the National Smile Week survey reveal that one in three people are unlikely to tell a friend if they have bad breath (2), so you might be walking around unaware of your halitosis. But don't despair. You are not condemned to a life of social alienation. Through understanding the causes of bad breath and practicing good oral hygiene, bad breath could be avoided, and before you know it, your mouth will smell like a breath of fresh air.
Several factors trigger bad breath, such as the types of food you consume, whether you drink coffee or alcohol, and if you smoke (3). However, a typical cause of persistent bad breath is the neglect of oral hygiene (4). Each time we eat, our mouths produce bacteria which break down the food particles into acid, and release a sour smelling odour (4). If you do not take care in cleansing your mouth, the acid and bacteria build up around your teeth and gums, forming plaque, an accumulation of white, sticky deposits in which bacteria thrive (5). It is these bacteria that perpetuate halitosis, and in some serious cases, bad breath may be a symptom of gum disease or tooth decay (4).
Generally, bad breath could be avoided by maintaining dental hygiene (6). Brushing teeth, gums and the tongue twice daily, flossing at least three times a week and rinsing your mouth regularly with a mouthwash like Listerine are simple, yet effective methods for preventing bad breath (3). Throughout the day, keep your mouth cleansed by drinking fluids, particularly water, or chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate the production of saliva (3). Finally, routine examinations by your dentist or dental hygienist are critical to overall dental and oral health. He or she will be able to identify signs of gum disease or tooth decay, as well as offer tailored advice that responds to your personal dental requirements (6).
If you find that you still have bad breath despite practicing good oral hygiene, you might want to consider seeking medical advice. In some cases, bad breath may be a symptom of infection or illness (7), a side effect from a particular medication, or even the consequence of low carbohydrate diets like Atkins, which can result in the build-up of the biological chemical, ketone in the body (4).
1. NHS, 2009. Bad breath (halitosis). [press release] 19 November 2009, Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Bad-breath/Pages/Introduction.aspx [Accessed 4 July 2012]
2. British Dental Health Foundation, 2002. Survey reveals bad breath shame. [press release] 24 July 2002, Available at: http://www.dentalhealth.org/news/details/43 [Accessed 4 July 2012]
3. British Dental Health Foundation, 2002. Bad breath advice for National Smile Week. [press release] 24 July 2002, Available at: http://www.dentalhealth.org/news/details/35 [Accessed 4 July 2012]
4. NHS, 2009. Bad breath (halitosis) – Causes. [press release] 19 November 2009, Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Bad-breath/Pages/Causes.aspx [Accessed 4 July 2012]
5. Medline Plus, 2012. Dental cavities. [press release] 22 February 2012, Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001055.htm [Accessed 4 July 2012]
6. NHS, 2009. Bad breath (halitosis) – Treatment. [press release] 19 November 2009, Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Bad-breath/Pages/Treatment.aspx [Accessed 4 July 2012]
7. BBC, 2008. BBC Health Halitosis. [press release] March 2008, Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/physical_health/conditions/halitosis.shtml#halitosis_-_causes_and_risk_factors [Accessed 4 July 2012]