If you’re one of the estimated 50% of Americans who experiences halitosis or ‘bad breath’ at any given time, or the 25% of Americans who experiences chronic halitosis, (bad breath all the time), you may be wondering what is causing that bad breath. And what you can do to fix it. We asked Dr. Stephen Hill of Allen, TX to break down some of the most common causes of bad breath, and what you can do to fix it.
There are many causes of bad breath, but the number one cause is simply bacteria on the tongue. This bacteria can usually be removed by using a tongue scraper or simply by using your toothbrush to scrub your tongue. Hill also suggests flossing, using mouthwash, and chewing sugarless gum.
So, what are some of the other culprits that may be causing your breath to be less than its best? Hill explains
Your Drink. Drinking coffee is a big contributor to bad breath, hence the market for "after coffee mints." However, Hill cautions if you do decide to have a mint, make sure it’s also sugar-free because the bacteria that live in your mouth and cause bad breath also thrive on sugar. No matter how strong the mint, any sugar can make your breath worse after the mint is gone. Alcoholic beverages are another surprise cause of bad breath, as are caffeinated drinks because the presence of caffeine dries out the mouth.
Tonsil Stones: Tonsil stones are little, hardened clusters of sloughed white blood cells, mixed with food particles and plaque. These stones become trapped in the porous surface of your tonsils, in divots called crypts, causing bad breath. Tonsil stones are usually visible to the naked eye when looking in the mirror. If you can see them, Hill says you can probably knock them loose, either by scraping them off with your toothbrush, gargling with salt water, or using a water flossing device to blast them loose. If you are still unable to dislodge them, he recommends paying a visit to your dentist, who can remove them for you.
Your Low Carb Diet: People with low carb diets often complain about bad breath. This is because when you increase the amount of protein in your diet, and your body burns fat, you produce ‘ketones’ which can cause bad breath. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do to stop this process, short of stopping your diet, so if you fit into this category, Hill recommends chewing sugarless gum to mask any unpleasant breath.
Cavities and Broken Teeth: Cavities, broken teeth, and tooth decay can all cause bad breath. This is because particles of food can often get trapped in broken teeth and cavities, causing odor. The fix for this is a pretty easy one, says Hill. "Go to the dentist!" Regular checkups can help fend off new cavities and find and correct any that are already there. Broken teeth can sometimes be fixed by crowns or fillings, or may require a more
Medical Problems: This is kind of a broad category, but Hill says there are many ways medical issues can contribute to bad breath. One such way is the medications you may be taking- especially ones that list ‘dry-mouth’ as a side effect because saliva helps keep your breath fresh. If you are taking a medication that causes your mouth to dry out, drinking plenty of water and chewing sugarless gum can help keep your mouth hydrated and your breath fresh. In children, the sweetened versions of medications may also contribute to bad breath, because bacteria thrive on sugar. Hill recommends if your child must take sweetened medicine, have them follow their dose with a glass of water, and check with the prescribing doctor or pharmacist regarding when it’s considered safe to brush your teeth following medication. For evening doses, Hill says "If at all possible, try not to let sweetened medication be the last thing your child ingests before they go to sleep. Many children’s medicines leave a sticky, sugary coating on teeth, which when left on a closed mouth for 8-12 hours can do a lot of harm to tooth enamel." Other medical conditions that could be contributing to your bad breath are sinus congestion due to allergies or the common cold, which can not only cause you to ‘mouth breathe, ’ but in the case of the cold, can cause you to cough up mucous, or for mucous to drain from your sinuses to your throat.
If you have "tried everything" and still are experiencing bad breath, or if your specific issue isn’t listed above, Hill suggests speaking to your dentist. "Your dentist can find issues in your mouth that are contributing to your bad breath that you may not even be aware of- or, we can help you figure out what lifestyle factors may be causing it- and provide you with some ways you can correct it."