Completely You: Oral Care
By Jake Kalish for Completely You
Could you have bad breath? It’s something most of us don’t think about, especially since it’s difficult to discern odors coming from your own mouth. But according to a recent report from the American Dental Association, more than 50 percent of us suffer from halitosis — and many of us don’t even know it. But fret not. Here are the most common causes of bad breath — and what you can do about them.
Bad Breath Common Cause 1: Your Diet
This is the most easily correctible cause of halitosis, commonly known as bad breath. Some foods that bring on bad breath are obvious — onions and garlic, for example. But your entire way of eating could be at fault. Low-carb diets are notorious for bringing on bad breath because they lead to ketosis, a condition in which foul-smelling chemicals called ketones are released in your breath when your body burns fat instead of carbs for energy. This, in turn, leads to halitosis.
What to do: In addition to eliminating odor-causing foods and avoiding low-carb diets, your best bet is to brush your teeth immediately after eating and use mouthwash, which will temporarily keep bad breath at bay. For long-term prevention, get in the habit of brushing the back of your tongue. Studies show it can reduce bad breath by up to 70 percent.
Bad Breath Common Cause 2: Gum Disease
If you’ve given the boot to garlic and anchovies but your stinkbreath remains, you likely have some sort of periodontal disease. “The most common reasons for chronic halitosis are periodontal diseases, and these are most likely caused by not brushing and flossing regularly and correctly and by failing to visit a dentist at least twice a year,” says Dr. Ruchi Nijjar Sahota, a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association and a dentist in Fremont, Calif.
What to do: Finally learn to brush and floss properly (get some great tips here) and just do it already! In addition, schedule a visit with your dentist ASAP. Only a dentist can remove bacteria that have seeped under the gums.
Bad Breath Common Cause 3: Dry Mouth
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is often overlooked as a reason for bad breath. Dry mouth can be caused by emotional stress and the hormonal changes of pregnancy and menopause, as well as many medications and illnesses. (See common cause No. 4 below.) Whatever the cause, when there isn’t adequate saliva to wash away food and neutralize the acids produced by plaque, it can bring on bad breath as well as tooth decay.
“People don’t realize they have dry mouth,” says Sahota. “I ask my patients, do you find your mouth is sticky? Do you want water but not have time to drink it?”
What to do: If your mouth is dry, drink lots of water and swish it around in your mouth for at least 20 seconds to loosen food particles, which bacteria can feed on. Getting a prescription for artificial saliva from your dentist can help greatly. But so can chewing sugarless gum, which promotes saliva production. Ironically, breath mints that contain sugar and/or alcohol can actually hurt your breath in the long run, as alcohol contributes to dry mouth and sugar produces even more bacteria.
Bad Breath Common Cause 4: Medications or Illness
If your bad breath won’t go away, keep a log of the foods you eat and the medications you take. Many prescriptions and medications (including antihistamines, decongestants, painkillers and antidepressants) may be contributing to your halitosis.
What to do: Talk to your dentist. Let him know if you’ve had surgery or have been sick since your last visit. If your halitosis isn’t caused by your diet, periodontal disease or dry mouth, it could be the sign of a medical condition — such as postnasal drip or a respiratory tract infection — in which case you will be referred to a medical doctor.
If you think you might have halitosis, don’t be afraid to ask someone. You can’t fix the problem if there’s shame in your game. “If you have bad breath every day, look into what’s happening,” says Sahota. Your loved ones will be happy you did.
Did anyone ever point out you had bad breath? Talk about it below or connect with us @Completely_You
Jake Kalish is a freelance writer
whose articles have appeared in Details, Men’s
Fitness and Epicurious, among other publications. His
personal essays have appeared in the New York Press and Ducts, and his humor book,
Santa vs. Satan: The Official Compendium of Imaginary Fights, was published in 2008. He is a
frequent contributor to Completely You.