One of the most common oral health concerns for patients is halitosis, also known as bad breath, which can often lead to uncomfortable situations. While common, many who suffer are unaware of the causes and often simple treatments to address the problem. 

While many causes are harmless, bad breath can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition. About 90% of halitosis cases start in the mouth; the other 10% can be caused by respiratory or gastrointestinal diseases. Most commonly, the cause has something do with diet, a lack of flowing saliva or a break from flossing. 

The following are some of the most common causes of bad breath: 

Diet. Foods such as onions, garlic, pickles and some spices, such as curry, can contribute to foul breath. Halitosis caused by food is temporary and can be eliminated by proper oral hygiene.

Dry mouth. Xerostomia, which is the medical term for dry mouth, is when there is a decrease in natural saliva production from the salivary glands. The production of saliva is important because it constantly works to help clear debris and food particles from the mouth and keeps the mouth moist. A lack of saliva not only leads to dry mouth, which causes that terrible feeling of “morning breath,” but can also contribute to other dental issues such as cavities. Additionally, dry mouth can be caused by certain medications and health conditions or excessive intake of caffeine, alcohol or tobacco products. 

Poor oral hygiene/ dental problems. Halitosis is typically caused by bacteria present in the mouth. If you are not practicing proper oral hygiene on a daily basis, then bad breath is likely to occur as bacteria and plaque accrue in the mouth. Gingivitis, periodontal disease, cavities or the presence of a dental infection can be a cause as well. If you notice inflammation of your gums or are experiencing any tooth pain along with bad breath, visit your dentist to address possible dental conditions.

Tobacco use. Tobacco products cause the mouth to dry out excessively, worsening bad breath.

Underlying medical conditions. Uncontrolled diabetes and advanced liver or kidney disease can also contribute to halitosis, as can upper respiratory infections and tonsillitis. In these cases, one may experience other serious symptoms and should seek medical attention.

Tips to improve bad breath include brushing and flossing your teeth at least twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste, brushing your tongue at least once a day, rinsing and gargling with an alcohol-free mouthwash before bed, avoiding use of tobacco products, and lastly, visiting your dentist on a regular basis.  

Sarah Khoshniyati (“Dr. Sarah”) is a dentist with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.

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