Bad breath is a common problem that can affect us at any stage in our lives. It can be something that happens to us only occasionally, or it can be something we experience on a daily basis. It's thought that around one in four of us will suffer from regular bad breath at some point in our lives.
The medical term for bad breath is halitosis.
Bad breath & poor oral hygiene
The most common cause of bad breath is a poor oral hygiene routine – in other words, not cleaning our teeth properly or regularly enough. When we eat, the bacteria naturally present in our mouths begin to multiply. If we don't regularly remove the bacteria by cleaning, they can give off unpleasant-smelling gases that cause bad breath.
Particles of food left behind by poor brushing, or by not flossing, will also be broken down by our mouth bacteria and produce an unpleasant smell.
If you wear a denture or other oral appliance (such as a removable brace), inadequate cleaning can cause bacteria to build up on the surface, creating an unpleasant smell.
If you have bad breath regularly, it can also be a sign that you're developing gum disease. The gums may become red and swollen, and may bleed while cleaning your teeth or when you touch them.
Bad breath & other medical conditions
Some medical conditions can cause bad breath:
• Nose, throat and lung infections such as bronchitis, tonsillitis or sinusitis
• Infection of your stomach lining with the ulcer-causing bacteria known as H. Pylori
• If you have a dry mouth as a symptom of a medical condition, such as diabetes or Sjogren's syndrome, you may experience bad breath
Some prescription medicines can cause bad breath as a possible side effect. These include:
• Nitrate medicines, used to treat angina
• Phenothiazines, a group of medicines used to treat various mental health problems
• Certain types of chemotherapy
Bad breath & smoking
Smoking is a very common cause of bad breath.
As well as affecting the way your breath smells, smoking can also irritate your gums. This irritation puts you at a higher risk of developing gum disease, which can cause bad breath as an early symptom.
Bad breath & strong-smelling food or drink
If your bad breath comes on when you've eaten or drunk something with a strong smell, and you don't have it at other times, the chances are you've found the cause.
Preventing bad breath
The most important step you can take to prevent or treat regular bad breath is to have a good daily oral hygiene routine:
• Visit your dentist for regular check-ups
• Brush your teeth for at least two minutes, twice a day. Some people find it's easier to thoroughly clean their teeth with an electric toothbrush
• Use a fluoride-containing toothpaste. Fluoride has been shown to help prevent the growth of the bacteria that cause bad breath
• Floss your teeth at least once a day, preferably before brushing
• If you wear a denture, take it out each night (this gives your mouth a chance to rest) and clean it thoroughly. Your dentist or pharmacist can advise on a suitable cleaning method – they may recommend a specialist denture cleaning solution
• If you wear a removable brace or other appliance, make sure you clean it regularly. Your dentist or pharmacist can advise on the best way to do this
If you have gum disease, mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine or hexetidine can help. Your dentist or pharmacist can advise on which might be suitable for you.
Chewing sugar-free gum after eating can help