Bad breath (also known as halitosis) is breath containing an unpleasant odor. This odor can strike periodically or be persistent, depending on the cause. In many patients, the millions of bacteria that live in the mouth (particularly on the back of the tongue) are the primary culprits of bad breath. The mouths warm, moist conditions make an ideal environment for these bacteria to grow. About 80 percent of bad breath is caused by something in the mouth.
Some types of bad breath, such as “morning mouth,” are considered to be fairly normal, and they are usually not health concerns. The “morning mouth” type of bad breath occurs because the saliva that regularly washes away decaying food and odors during the daytime diminishes at night while you sleep. Your mouth becomes dry, and dead cells adhere to your tongue and to the inside of your cheeks. Bacteria use these cells for food and expel compounds that have a foul odor.
In addition, bad breath can be caused by the following
Poor dental hygiene teeth are coated with film or plaque, food debris trapped between teeth, pale or swollen gums
Infections in the mouth gums may be red, swollen and bleed easily, especially after brushing or flossing; pus may drain from between teeth; a pocket of pus (abscess) at the base of a tooth; loose teeth or a change in “fit” of a denture; painful, open sores on the tongue or gums
Respiratory-tract infections sore throat, swollen lymph nodes (“swollen glands”) in the neck, fever, stuffy nose, a greenish or yellowish nasal discharge, a mucus-producing cough
External agents cigarette stains on fingers and teeth, a uniform yellow “coffee stain” on teeth
Dry mouth difficulty swallowing dry foods, difficulty speaking for a prolonged period because of mouth dryness, a burning sensation in the mouth, an unusually high number of dental caries, dry eyes (in Sjagrens syndrome)
Systemic illnesses symptoms of diabetes, lung disease, kidney failure or liver disease
Bad breath caused by dental problems can be easily prevented. Daily maintenance calls for brushing your teeth, tongue and gums after meals, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwashes approved by the American Dental Association. Regular visits to the dentist (twice a year) should be made for dental examinations and for professional teeth and gum cleaning.
Bad breath can also be combated by drinking plenty of water every day to encourage saliva production. An occasional swish of the mouth with water can loosen food particles. Other products that keep breath fresh and prevent plaque from forming include sugar-free gum, sugarless lozenges, raw carrots and celery.
Call your dentist promptly if you have bad breath with painful, swollen gums that bleed easily or loose teeth. Also, call your doctor if your bad breath occurs together with a fever, sore throat, a postnasal drip, a discolored nasal discharge or a mucus-producing cough. Even if you have none of these associated symptoms, call your dentist if your bad breath persists despite a good diet and proper dental hygiene.
Once halitosis has been diagnosed, the prognosis for fresh breath is usually excellent as long as you adhere to your dentists or physicians treatment plan.