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Bad Breath

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Q: What should I do if I have bad breath?

A: Bad breath (halitosis) can be an unpleasant and embarrassing condition. Many of us may not realize that we have bad breath, but everyone has it from time to time, especially in the morning.

There are various reasons why we may have bad breath, but in healthy people, the major reason is due to bacterial deposits on the tongue.  This is the case especially towards the back of the tongue.  Some studies have shown that simply brushing the tongue reduced bad breath by as much as 70 percent.

What may cause bad breath?

  • Morning time – Saliva flow almost stops during sleep and its reduced cleansing action allows bacteria to grow, causing bad breath.

  • Certain foods – Eating odour producing foods such as garlic, onions, etc.

  • Poor oral hygiene habits – Food particles remaining in the mouth promote bacterial growth.

  • Periodontal (gum) disease – Colonies of bacteria and food debris residing under inflamed gums.

  • Dental cavities and improperly fitted dental appliances – May also contribute to bad breath.

  • Dry mouth (Xerostomia) – May be caused by certain medications, salivary gland problems, or continuous mouth breathing.

  • Tobacco products – Dry the mouth, causing bad breath.

  • Dieting – Certain chemicals called ketones are released in the breath as the body burns fat.

  • Dehydration, hunger, and missed meals – Drinking water and chewing food increases saliva flow and wash bacteria away.

  • Certain medical conditions and illnesses – Diabetes, liver and kidney problems, chronic sinus infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia are several conditions that may contribute to bad breath.

What can I do to prevent bad breath?

  • Practice good oral hygiene – Brush at least twice a day. Floss daily to remove food debris and plaque from in between the teeth and under the gumline.  Remember to also brush the surface of your tongue. Replace your toothbrush every 2 to 3 months.  If you wear dentures or other removable dental appliances, clean them regularly, at least twice daily but preferably after every meal.

  • See your dentist regularly – Get a check-up and cleaning at least twice a year.  If you have or have had periodontal disease, your dentist will recommend more frequent visits.

  • Stop smoking/Stop chewing tobacco – Ask your dentist what they recommend to help break the habit.

  • Drink water frequently – Water will help keep your mouth moist and wash away bacteria.

  • Use mouthwash/rinses – Some over-the-counter products only provide a temporary solution to mask unpleasant mouth odor.  Ask your dentist about antiseptic rinses that not only alleviate bad breath, but also kill the germs that cause the problem.

In most cases, your dentist can treat the cause of bad breath.  If it is determined that your mouth is healthy, but bad breath is persistent, your dentist may refer you to your physician to determine the cause of the odor and to suggest appropriate treatment.

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