Let’s Talk About Your Breath.

Posted on Sep 28, 2023 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

Who, me?

While many people may suspect their breath is less-than-fresh, most don’t realize that others are noticing. And, let’s face it – no one wants to be associated with bad breath.

Bad breath that is persistent, or halitosis, is not just the stale odor in your mouth when you wake up or the lingering scent of onions on a burger you had for lunch. Halitosis is typically a symptom that results from other conditions. While chewing gum and breath mints may temporarily improve the odor, going bad breath will continue until the root cause has been determined and treated.

I’ve often heard, “If you think you might have bad breath, you probably do.” To check your own breath, Colgate suggests: “Try the sniff test—there are a couple of ways to do it. If you lick your wrist, let it dry for a moment, then take a whiff, you should be able to get an idea if your breath has an odor too. Another method is to floss toward the back of your mouth, then smell the floss.”

If you feel bad breath is a constant problem, then halitosis is likely what needs to be the focus. And, where is it originating? Gum disease? GERD? Diabetes?

It may make you feel better to know that halitosis is actually fairly common. It is estimated to affect 1 in 4 people worldwide. It may be so common because the reasons it exists can vary widely. These can include:

• Poor oral hygiene – Without a thorough at-home oral hygiene routine, oral bacteria accumulate. At minimum, twice-daily brushing, flossing and 6-month dental cleanings are needed to keep harmful bacteria under control. If not, plaque forms, which is the sticky film that layers over teeth and gums. Plaque can harden into masses of bacteria known as tartar. Tartar can no longer be removed by brushing and flossing.

• Gum disease – The early stage of gum disease is gingivitis. This is an inflammation of gum tissues that cause gums to swell, become tender and bleed easily when brushing. Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, which damages gum tissue and can lead to tooth and bone loss of the structures that support natural teeth.

• Dry mouth – Saliva is the mouth’s natural rinsing agent, removing food particles and bacteria from the mouth. Without adequate saliva flow, it can lead to halitosis. Smoking, certain medications, and some foods and beverages contribute to oral dryness.

• Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – This digestive disorder allows stomach acids to seep back into the esophagus, the tube that takes food from your mouth to your stomach.

• Nasal and airway infections – When congestive mucus from conditions like sinus infections and pneumonia are coughed up, a foul odor can emerge from the mouth.

• Diabetes – People with diabetes have a higher risk of gum disease. By the same token, gum disease can make it harder to manage diabetes because of increased blood sugar.

• Liver disease or kidney disease – The liver and kidneys are designed to filter toxins out of your body. When people have liver or kidney disease, these toxic substances aren’t being cleared out, resulting in halitosis.

• Sjögren’s syndrome – This autoimmune disease can lead to muscle pain, dry eyes, dry skin and dry mouth (which is often linked to halitosis).

• Head and neck cancers – Oral or throat cancers cause sores that don’t heal, mouth pain, difficulty swallowing, a lump in your neck and unexplained weight loss.

If you have bad breath that doesn’t go away, schedule an appointment with your dentist. If halitosis is due to poor oral hygiene, a dental cleaning or periodontal (gum) procedure should help. If you have healthy teeth and gums, then halitosis may be linked to an issue in another part of your body.

If halitosis is a symptom of another condition somewhere in your body, your primary healthcare provider can help you with proper diagnosis and treatment. Once your physician determines the cause of your halitosis, he or she can develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.

However, if gum disease is the cause, a periodontist can help resolve your problem in the most conversative yet effective process possible. If gum disease is the cause for your halitosis, a procedure known as scaling and root planing may be advised. This helps to reach inflammatory bacteria that have moved down below the gum line.

Once your gums are restored to a healthy state, your periodontist may advise added at-home steps, such as a special mouthwash to combat certain bacteria in your mouth. However, proper oral hygiene is the best way to keep your breath smelling clean and fresh. Here are some general guidelines:

• Use an alcohol-free antibacterial mouthwash.

• See your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings. For some people, this may be every six months. But others may need more frequent visits to keep their oral health in check.

• Keeping a moist mouth is very important to oral hygiene. Drinking plenty of water during the day is advised. Colas, sweet tea, and energy drinks actually make dryness worse. You should also monitor the medications you take (both prescription and over-the-counter) and look for side effects that include oral dryness. And, smoking is one of the worst contributors of all to oral dryness.

• Proper brushing and flossing is necessary. Brush for at least two minutes twice daily and rinse thoroughly. Use a circular motion rather than scrub teeth back and forth to avoid damaging tender gum tissues. Never use a hard bristle tooth brush or brush with harsh substances such as baking soda!

• The tongue harbors a significantly high percentage of oral bacteria. After brushing, use a tongue scraper to uproot oral bacteria embedded in the grooves of the tongue. This will significantly lower bacteria levels. A study at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine found that 80 to 90% of bad breath comes from bacteria on the tongue.

• Boost the production of saliva by using sugar-free chewing gum, sucking on sugar-free candy or eating healthy foods that require a lot of chewing. Your dentist might recommend or prescribe products that can produce artificial saliva or help your body produce saliva.

• Avoid alcohol, caffeine and tobacco products because they can dry out your mouth.

It is also important to know the signs of gum disease (bleeding or sore gums, persistent bad breath, receded gums, and/or gums that are red rather than a healthy pink). If these are present, it is important to see a periodontal specialist as soon as possible. Gum disease will only worsen without treatment. It can also allow infectious bacteria to enter the bloodstream, which research has linked to serious (and even deadly) health problems.

Call our Asheville periodontal dental office to schedule an examination or begin with a consultation. If fear or anxiety has prevented you from regular dental visits, we can discuss several options (including oral or IV sedation) to provide comfortable, relaxed appointments. Call 828-274-9440.




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