Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bad Breath
Bad breath, commonly referred to as halitosis, usually originates from one of two sources -
certain foods we eat or the breakdown of food particles by bacteria which inhabit the mouth.
The Foods We Eat - The Cause of Temporary Bad Breath
We have all probably experienced bad breath caused by eating certain foods. We eat a meal
and then suffer with embarrassing bad breath later. The culprits are sulfur compounds found in certain foods like
garlic and cabbage. These sulfur compounds cause breathe to smell bad.
When we eat, sulfur compounds from foods are absorbed by our digestive systems. Contrary to
popular belief, sulfur compounds do not cause bad breath as a result of working their way back up into the mouth
from the stomach.
Rather, the sulfur compounds move from the digestive system into the bloodstream where they
are carried to the lungs. Here the lungs expel the sulfur compounds from the body by way of the air that we exhale
! Amazingly, many of these sulfur compounds are also excreted in sweat from the skin and in urine for hours to even
days after the food containing them is eaten.
How can you get rid of this type of bad breath ? One option is to avoid the foods that cause
bad breath such as cabbage and onions. Alternatively, you can use one of several new products on the market which
attack and neutralize the sulfur compounds while they are in the digestive system or in the
Bacteria - The Cause of Chronic Bad Breath
Chronic bad breath is constant long standing bad breath. Although a little harder to treat,
it can be treated nevertheless. The problem starts with bacteria. Did you know that over 170 different types of
bacteria live in our mouths?
These bacteria feed on bits of food left on our teeth after meals. Feasting on these
"leftovers", bacteria produce sulfur compounds (Volatile Sulfur Compounds -VSCs) which once again give breath its
Many of these bacteria are anaerobic meaning that they can not live in the presence of
oxygen. How do they live in the mouth which is exposed to oxygen every time we breathe? These bacteria hide in
places where oxygen can not reach - under plaque and food debris, in the spaces between the teeth and gums, and in
the deep crevices of the tongue.
This is why proper dental care is important in eliminating bad breath. Brushing and
- Remove bacteria from the mouth.
- Remove the layer of plaque, food debris, and dead cells which protect bacteria from oxygen.
- Remove the left-over microscopic food particles which bacteria use to create the odorous sulfur
How Can You Tell If You Have Bad Breath?
Contrary to popular belief, you can not tell by yourself whether or not you have bad breath.
Many people try cupping their hands to their nose to smell exhaled air. Others may try licking and then smelling
Unfortunately, these simply do not work. First, the body becomes accustomed to its own
odors. As a result, it becomes hard for you to objectively distinguish whether or not your breath odor is foul or
not. Secondly, much of the foul breath is created at the back of the mouth and is expelled outward only when we
How then do you tell if your breath offends ? Many dentists measure breath odor using an
instrument called a halimeter. The patient blows into a straw like tube connected to the halimeter and the
machine detects the levels of volatile sulfur compounds in the breath. The more volatile sulfur compounds measured
by the machine the worst the breath.
If you do not want to use a halimeter the next best way to detect bad breath is to simply ask a trusted friend
to tell you whether or not your breath is offensive.
The Tongue - Safe Haven for Bacteria
A major advancement in the treatment of bad breath has been the finding that
bacteria which causes bad breath can reside on the tongue - especially the back of the
tongue ! In fact, as much as 50% of the bacteria within the mouth can be found here. For bacteria the
tongue is a lush velvet carpet in which they can escape the wrath of the toothbrush and dental
In many countries it has long been a practice to use a device called a tongue cleaner (also
commonly called a tongue scraper) to gently clean the tongue but the importance of this procedure is just being
felt here in the United States.
During each brushing you should remove bacteria from your tongue with one of several commercially available
tongue cleaners. What you will scrape off with the tongue cleaner is a whitish layer of bacteria, plaque, and food
debris. This simple procedure can greatly improve the condition of your breath.
Saliva - Nature's Mouthwash
A very important fact to remember when battling bad breath is that saliva is our
friend. A dry mouth represents the perfect environment for odor causing bacteria. Saliva acts as nature's
mouthwash by keeping the mouth moist, washing away bacteria, and dissolving foul smelling volatile sulfur
Conditions which reduce saliva flow or which make our mouth dry can
therefore lead to bad breath. In fact, the morning breath which many people experience after a long night of
sleep is caused by the reduction in saliva flow that occurs when we sleep.
Dieting, fasting, or talking for long periods of time reduce saliva flow and
contribute to bad breath. In addition, certain medications, alcohol consumption, and breathing through the nose
during exercise cause dry mouth contributing to the problem.
How do you make sure your saliva flow is adequate and that your mouth stays moist ? Drink
water. Saliva flow increases when we eat or drink. If you are dieting or fasting, drinking water is a good way to
stimulate the flow of saliva. The water will also help wash away food and bacteria.
Placing a drop of lemon juice on the tip of your tongue or chewing sugarless gum are also effective ways to
stimulate saliva flow. It is a commonly held notion in the medical community that mints and breath freshening gums
work not by masking odor but by stimulating saliva flow.
The Truth About Over-The-Counter Mouthwashes
People often combat chronic bad breath using mouthwash as their weapon of choice.
Ironically, most commercial mouthwashes are useless in eliminating chronic bad breath.
Recent studies have reported that mouthwashes only temporarily mask the odor of bad breath
for as little as 10 minutes after brushing. In fact, because they contain alcohol, mouthwashes can actually make
the situation worse by drying out the mouth creating a more hospitable environment for odor causing
A new breed of mouthwashes containing chlorine dioxide, however, have proven very effective in combating bad
breath. These mouthwashes do not mask bad breath odor like conventional mouth washes. Instead, the chlorine dioxide
in these rinses directly attacks the volatile sulfur compounds responsible for bad breath.
The nose can contribute to bad breath. Thick mucus discharge resulting from colds,
allergies, medications, pregnancy or hormonal changes can collect on the back of the tongue. This layer of mucus
provides a protective blanket under which bacteria hide. Bacteria can also break down proteins in the mucus to
create volatile sulfur particles.
Sometimes mucus, bacteria, and debris condense onto the surface of the tonsils forming small
hard balls of material. Known as tonsilloliths, these odorous balls of material are sometimes coughed
Using an over-the-counter nasal spray helps thin out post-nasal drip making it less useful
to odor causing bacteria. Drinking water may also make mucus less viscous and therefore less likely to collect on
the back of the tongue.
Periodontal Disease - A Treatable Cause of Bad Breath
If you try:
- Staying away from certain foods that are known to cause bad breath,
- Removing bacteria and food particles by brushing your teeth and flossing,
- Removing bacteria from the tongue,
- Making sure that your mouth does not become too dry (maintaining saliva
and still have bad breath, you may want to see your dentist. This is because anaerobic bacteria in your mouth
may have found special places to hide. Normally there is a small 1-3 mm space between your gums and teeth. This is
known as the periodontal pocket or pocket for short. When pockets get to be 5mm or more they create deeper and more
secluded hiding places for bacteria.
Your dentist should be able to detect these periodontal pockets during a routine gum exam. These areas are
difficult to keep clean and may create a continuous supply of sulfur gases. The more areas that you have harboring
these bacteria, the worse the breath.
What creates these widened pockets which harbor bacteria? These deep pockets often result from the breakdown of
the gums caused by periodontal
If you have persistent bad breath, you should definitely see your dentist to find out if you have periodontal
disease. Other symptoms of periodontal disease include:
- Swollen or bleeding gums
- Tender gums
- Loosening and shifting teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Pain upon chewing.
If you have periodontal disease, your dentist can help you treat it and consequently treat the bad breath
associated with it.