Bad breath, also known as oral malodor or halitosis, is a very common and treatable condition for many adults. It can be caused by something you eat, or more seriously, can signify a deeper oral health issue or serious medical issue. Here we’ll describe possible causes of common bad breath as well as chronic bad breath or halitosis.
General Oral Health
Most bad breath is caused by poor oral hygiene. If you don’t clean your teeth and your whole mouth regularly, food particles can remain in your mouth and a sticky buildup of bacteria (also known as plaque) can form on your teeth. The uneven surface of your tongue as well as your tonsils can trap food particles and bacteria in the mouth which produce bad breath odor. Poor oral hygiene also causes other oral health conditions such as cavities and gum disease which are also associated with bad breath. Keeping a consistent and thorough oral care routine is the best defense against bad breath.
Eating Flavorful Food & Drink
After eating certain foods—like onions, garlic, certain vegetables and spices—odor-causing food particles enter the bloodstream and are carried to the lungs, where they affect the odor of your breath each time you exhale.
If you’re a big fan of a strong cup of coffee in the morning to start your day, you may have noticed that it can leave you feeling like you have bad breath. Coffee can be a cause of bad breath due its intense flavor as well as the effect it has on saliva production. After drinking coffee, the caffeine leads to a decline in saliva production. Less saliva means an increase in odor-causing bacteria.
Alcohol consumption is another culprit of bad breath, so the more often you drink - the more likely you are to experience it. Drinking alcohol, particularly in excess, causes a decrease in saliva production, which is the best environment for odor-causing bacteria to flourish.
In addition to adventurous or spicy foods, diets that are high in sugar and protein can also result in bad breath. A diet high in sugar can lead to bad breath and could be the culprit for halitosis due to how sugars interact with the existing bacteria in your mouth. The bacteria that naturally exist in your mouth feed on sugars turning sweet treats in to sour smells.
High-Protein or Low-Carb Diets
Carbohydrates serve crucial functions in our bodies, and if your diet is low enough in carbs, it can lead to bad breath. When the body doesn’t get enough carbs due to an extreme diet, this can cause changes to your body’s metabolism which can lead to bad breath.
High-protein foods are sometimes difficult for your body to digest and tend to release sulfurous gases when they don’t metabolize. Avoid this by eating a more balanced and nutritious diet including more vegetables and herbs.
Tobacco products—whether it’s cigarettes, chew, or pipe—all cause bad breath and lead to much more serious oral health issues. Apart from leaving your mouth smelling like an ashtray, they damage the gum tissue and cause gum disease.
Poor digestion, constipation, or bowel disorders can all cause unfortunate odor on the breath. If you frequently experience acid reflux, the odors from recently consumed foods may easily make their way back up the esophagus and out the mouth, causing bad breath.
Saliva helps keep your mouth clean by removing food particles that lead to bad breath. When the production of saliva slackens or stops, a condition known as xerostomia, bad breath is likely to follow. This happens naturally while you sleep, which is why most people find their breath to be a bit stinky upon waking up. But if the problem persists throughout the day, treatment may be worth considering.
Hundreds of prescription medications come with the side effect of dry mouth. When your mouth is dry, when saliva production decreases, the environment for odor-causing bacteria thrives. Any extended period of time with cotton mouth can cause discomfort and lead to bad breath. Additionally, some medications, when broken down in the body, release chemicals that can be carried through your blood stream to your breath.
Although most bad breath is caused by odor-causing bacteria, there are a number of other health conditions that may be contributing to the problem. Bad breath can be a warning sign that other diseases or illnesses are present. Postnasal drip, respiratory and tonsil infections, sinus problems, diabetes, liver and kidney issues, as well as certain blood disorders can all cause bad breath. In some rarer cases, bad breath could be a sign of cancer or other serious conditions like metabolic disorders.
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