Let’s talk about bad breath (halitosis)
By Dr Brighton Chireka
My late father used to encourage us to take oral hygiene seriously and his favourite saying was that; “Be careful to mistaken being given a special seat at a gathering as being honoured when in actual fact people are making sure that they avoid your bad breath”. Bad breath (halitosis) can affect anyone regardless of age or social status. About one in four people are thought to have bad breath on a regular basis. It can put a huge strain on all types of relationships be it social, personal or intimate. Bringing the subject of bad breath can be difficult, even with a partner, can be extremely difficult but I hope this article will call to action everyone to be able to freely talk about bad breath.
Bad breath ruin someone’s life to the extent of dreading to be in public or speak to other people or even being intimate with their partners. I hope that by reading this article someone can be confident again that a cause and a cure can be found. If severe bad breath is killing the passion in your life or straining relationships with friends and family, or your partner then you owe it to yourself to read this article and do something about it. Remember not making a decision is a decision in itself.
What are the causes of bad breath?
I am glad you asked as it is a topic that we rarely talk about in public. We tend to speak behinds the backs of our friends instead of telling them so that they can get help before it’s too late. Bad breath has a number of possible causes listed below.
Poor oral hygiene.
The most common cause of bad breath is poor oral hygiene . If we do not brush and floss our teeth regularly, food trapped between our teeth will be broken down by the bacteria, causing bad breath. We must not forget to clean the tongue as well. One need to have regular dental checks up so that oral hygiene problems are picked up and treated early. Your dentist can advise on how often you need a check-up.
Food and drink
Eating strongly flavoured foods – such as garlic , onion and spices- is likely to cause bad breath . This also includes strong-smelling drinks – such as coffee and alcohol.
Smoking causes bad breath and also can stain the teeth , irritate the gums and lessen one’s sense of taste. It also increases the risk of developing gums disease, which is another cause of bad breath.
Crash dieting, fasting and low-carbohydrate diets can also cause bad breath. These cause the body to break down fat, which produces chemicals called ketones that can be smelt.
Some types of medication can cause bad breath. These include:
Nitrates- which are sometimes used to treat angina (chest pain caused by a restriction in the blood supply to the heart)
Chemotherapy medication (treatment for cancer) some of the medication does cause bad breath.
Tranquillisers (phenothiazines) can cause bad breath.
In rare cases , bad breath can be caused by certain medial conditions such as diabetes as well as throat, sinus, nose and lung infections.
Xerostomia (dry mouth), affects the flow of saliva which can cause bacteria to build up in the mouth leading to bad breath. Dry mouth can be caused by salivary glands problems or breathing through the mouth instead of the noise.
In some cases, gastrointestinal conditions may cause bad breath. For example, H. pylori infections (bacterial infections of the stomach lining and small intestine) and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) have been linked with bad breath.
How to treat and prevent bad breath?
Treatment for bad breath will depend on its cause hence the importance of finding the cause in the first place .
The most effective treatment is improving our dental hygiene. As part of our daily routine we should:
Brush our teeth and gums.
Floss between our teeth.
Clean our tongue
Cleaning our teeth
Dentists recommend that we brush our teeth at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste.
Here are some tips on how to brush our teeth and keep our mouth healthy:
Choose a small or medium-sized toothbrush with soft, multi-tufted synthetic bristles.
Replace your toothbrush every three to four months.
Brush your teeth for at least two minutes. Keep a toothbrush at work or school so you can brush your teeth after lunch.
Brush all areas of your teeth, paying particular attention to where your teeth and gums meet.
Your dentist or oral hygienist may recommend using a special single-tufted brush for specific problem areas of your mouth.
Use a separate toothbrush or a tongue scraper to lightly brush your tongue. Some toothbrushes have a tongue cleaner on the back of the brush head.
Use dental floss to clean between your teeth and remove trapped food that could cause tooth decay. Brushing on its own only cleans about 60% of the tooth’s surface.
Your dentist may recommend that you rinse your mouth daily using an anti-bacterial or anti-odour mouthwash. This shouldn’t replace brushing, but can be included as part of your daily routine.
To help prevent tooth erosion, avoid brushing your teeth for 30 minutes after drinking an acidic drink, such as fruit juice, or eating acidic fruit, such as oranges.
Fresh breath tips
Eat a healthy and balanced diet and avoid eating strongly flavoured or spicy food.
Cut down on sugary food and drink, as it can increase the amount of bacteria in your mouth.
Reduce your alcohol consumption.
Cut down on coffee.
Drink plenty of water to help prevent your mouth becoming dry.
Chew sugar-free gum after eating, to stimulate the flow of saliva. This will help clean away any remaining food particles.
Let’s make sure that we visit our dentists on a regular basis. Having regular dental check-ups will ensure that any plaque is removed from our teeth, particularly in areas that are difficult to reach.
The dentist can recommend the best way to clean your teeth and gums, and point out areas you might be missing. They can also identify any signs of gum disease and ensure early treatment.
If your bad breath is caused by a gastrointestinal problem, such as an H. pylori infection or GORD ,you may be treated by your general practitioner or be referred to a gastroenterologist.
I hope you have found this article useful and as usual I look froward to hearing your views, comments , suggestions and likes .
This article was compiled by Dr Brighton Chireka who is a GP and a Patient Engagement Advocate (PEA) in Folkestone Kent in UK. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org or read his work on his blog DR CHIREKA’S BLOG
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Dr Chireka has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions