One of the most common questions we hear at our office is ‘Do I have bad breath?’ or ‘How can I get rid of my bad breath?’ . Bad breath or halitosis is a common problem and often has dental origins.

Of course anything we eat can have temporary effects on breath but these are generally short-lived and can be dealt with by routine dental care. What is more difficult to deal with is bad breathof unknown origin and trying to determine what its source is. Mouthrinses and mint or gum only mask the odors and do little to eliminate the source. In fact mouthrinses containing alcohol can dry the mouth and dry mouth can contribute to halitosis. Mouthwashes with chlorine dioxide and some zinc containing rinses have been shown to neutralize odors effectively but these are hard to find- often only sold in dental offices. So what are other sources for this problem?

The most common source of oral malodors is bacteria found in the mouth. These bacteria can use the foods we eat to produce sulfur-containing chemicals which have unpleasant odors (think rotten eggs). These bacteria often hide themselves between teeth or among the hair-like projections of the tongue called papillae. The best way to keep odors caused by these bacteria in check is to keep the number of these bacteria to a minimum. This is best accomplished by flossing between the teeth, brushing the teeth and brushing or scraping the upper surface of the tongue- of these cleaning the tongue is most effective. Scrapers are the best tongue cleaners and can be found at most drug stores or your dentist. These activities reduce the number of bacteria present and cut down on the production of sulfur-containing chemicals. Some, but not most mouthwashes have been shown to kill bacteria but do not have a long-lasting effect on their numbers. A more difficult source of oral bacteria to control are those which are responsible for pyorrhea or periodontal disease. These germs are hidden in hard deposits, called tartar, which are attached to the roots of teeth and hidden below the gumline. Under the gum they are unable to be reached by floss or brush and must be professionally removed. The malodor produced by these bacteria result from them digesting food and bits of blood and dead gum tissue found in these areas as a result of the damages caused by this disease. Periodontal disease is very important to have treated as it affects many other aspects of a person’s health as well.

Smoking and tobacco use in other forms causes many cases of bad breath. The habit itself is smelly but it can also cut down on the amount of saliva a person produces. Saliva is part of the mouth’s cleaning process and dry mouths can cause odors to form. Smoking also can cause periodontal disease and its resulting problems. Talk to your dentist or other health care provider for tips and assistance in quitting.

As mentioned above, dry mouth can cause breath problems as well. Many medications have possible side-effects of dry mouth- particularly those for high blood pressure. This can be a difficult issue to address. There are artificial salivas available as well as gum, mints, toothpastes and a whole host of other products sold to help with this problem. You can find these at your local drugstore. Carrying water with you and taking occasional sips seems to be about as effective in the long run and is less expensive. There are medications which stimulate salivary flow but their side-effects make them undesirable for any long-term use.

There are also breath odors associated with diseases of other parts of the body. Sinus infections, Lung infections or diseases, diabetes and some liver and kidney diseases can all have symptoms of bad breath so if your dentist is unable to help solve your problem please contact your primary care physician for further help.

These are the most common sources of halitosis with some tips for its management. For further information go to our website www.collegeavenuedental.com or the website of the American Dental Association: www.ada.org. Thanks for reading!

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About the author

Randall Lawson is a practicing local dentist with long standing roots to the area. A native of Winchester, Dr. Lawson graduated from Illinois College in 1981 and from The University of Illinois College of Dentistry in 1985. He and his wife Mary Anne reside in Jacksonville and have two adult children. Dr. Lawson’s practice, College Avenue Dental, is dedicated to serving patients’ dental needs with care and compassion.

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