Q: My friends and family have told me on numerous occasions that I have bad breath. I stopped eating garlic and onions, I rinse with Listerine, and I always carry mints and breath spray with me, but nothing seems to work. What should I do?
A: First of all you should realize that you are not the only one who struggles with this condition. It has been said that bad breath is so common that it is difficult to decide which is normal: individuals who have bad breath or those who do not have it. Bad breath, also referred to as oral malodor or halitosis, is so common a problem that it is estimated that close to a billion dollars are spent on products to combat this widespread condition. Of the 50% of the adult population affected, 90% of the odors were found to be of oral causes and therefore become the responsibility of the dentist to diagnose and treat these individuals.
Many products found in commercial markets simply try to control oral malodor by masking it with minty and fruity scents. Mint candies, gums and most mouthwashes are not powerful enough on their own to combat the foul smelling volatile sulfur compounds, the molecules primarily responsible for oral malodor. At this moment I’m sure that many of you readers are breathing into your hand to see if you may be one of those affected individuals. Don’t bother. One problem associated with bad breath is the inability to self-diagnose. A person with a normal sense of smell usually becomes desensitized to its own stimulants. The majority of individuals with halitosis are often unaware they even have bad breath unless someone around them happens to mention it.
So what can be done? The most effective way to manage oral malodor is by maintaining proper oral hygiene, regular dental cleanings, and diligent brushing of the tongue. Remember, your tongue is the most retentive surface in your mouth, and is quite adept at harboring bacteria within its Velcro-like surface.
Other oral factors that can cause bad breath include food impacted between teeth, faulty restorations, throat infections, food and bacteria caught within the crypts of your tonsils, and unclean dentures. Some non-oral causes may include: post nasal drip, diabetes mellitus, kidney failure, infections of the upper respiratory tract, and, of course, foods such as garlic and onions, which are rich sources of volatile sulfur compounds. Reduced salivation, or dry mouth, has been shown to make one’s halitosis more readily perceived.
Dry mouth resulting from mouth breathing or as a side effect of many medications can also be a common cause of bad breath. Sugar-free sour candies may help to stimulate the flow of your saliva, and walking around with a water bottle will help keep your mouth moist. Remember, mints and mouth rinses will mask odor only for a brief duration. If you want to eliminate bad breath, consult with your dentist.