The low-down on 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 sulphur compounds found in certain foods like garlic and cabbage.
When we eat, sulphur compounds from foods are absorbed by our digestive systems. The sulphur compounds move from the digestive system into the bloodstream where they are carried to the lungs. Here the lungs expel the sulphur compounds from the body by way of the air that we exhale! Amazingly, many of these sulphur compounds are also excreted in sweat from the skin and in urine for hours to even days after the food containing them is eaten.
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 sulphur compounds which once again give breath its foul smell.
Many of these bacteria are anaerobic meaning that they can not live in the presence of oxygen. 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 flossing:
- 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 sulphur particles.
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. First, the body becomes accustomed to its own odours. As a result, it becomes hard for you to objectively distinguish whether or not your breath odour 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 talk. The 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! For bacteria the tongue is a lush velvet carpet in which they can escape the wrath of the toothbrush and dental floss.
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 dry mouth represents the perfect environment for odour causing bacteria. Saliva acts as nature's mouthwash by keeping the mouth moist, washing away bacteria, and dissolving foul smelling volatile sulphur compounds.
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.
Saliva flow increases when we eat or drink. Placing a drop of lemon juice on the tip of your tongue or chewing sugarless gum are also effective ways to stimulate saliva flow. Mints and breath freshening gums work not by masking odour 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 odour 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 odour causing bacteria.
If you have persistent 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 sulphur gases. These deep pockets often result from the breakdown of the gums caused by periodontal disease.
Other symptoms of periodontal disease include:
If you have periodontal disease, your dentist can help you treat it and consequently treat the bad breath associated with it.
- Swollen or bleeding gums
- Tender gums
- Loosening and shifting teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Pain upon chewing
(R) thedailystar.net 2006