What Causes Bad Breath and Halitosis?


What are the most common causes of bad breath?

The leading bad breath causes are a particular type of bacteria found on the soft tissues of the mouth – mainly on the back of the tongue. These bad breath bacteria thrive under a blanket of mucus where they produce the sulphur gases that cause bad breath odour. No everyday mouthwash can eliminate these bacterial bad breath causes and toothbrushes are of little value in removing them.

Why doesn’t everyone have bad breath?

Studies of bad breath causes show us that some people have substantially more of these bad breath bacteria than others; no one knows why. What we do know is that at least fifty million people in America and about 1 in 4 people in the UK have some degree of halitosis and suffer the embarrassment that bad breath causes.

Some key facts about bad breath causes:

  • Bad breath rarely originates in the stomach, throat, nose or sinuses as many people believe. Air released from the nose of a person with bad breath does not have an offensive odour. In 95% of cases, the primary bad breath causes are found in the mouth.
  • Surveys confirm that people form negative images of people with bad breath. Bad breath causes a serious social disadvantage; it impairs social, sexual and occupational interactions.
  • If your teeth and gums are in poor health they may contribute to bad breath. Regular, competent dental care is important because it helps control bad breath causes, including bacteria in the mouth.
  • Tonsil stones (tonsilloliths). Tonsil stones are bacteria, mucus and dead cells which get trapped in the holes and crevices of the tonsils. The debris that is collected in and around the tonsils hardens/calcifies and become what we know as tonsil stones. They smell putrid and are very difficult to remove so preventing them from forming in the first place is the best plan of action.
  • Some of the foods we eat can contribute to bad breath. Common bad breath causes can include garlic, onions, alcohol, hot peppers or aromatic spices. The effects can last up to 72 hours after ingestion. This type of bad breath cannot be eliminated by any known treatment or product.
  •  ‘Morning Breath’ is normal and occurs because the mouth tends to get dry and stagnate overnight. This usually clears when the flow of saliva increases soon after starting to eat breakfast.
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia) is caused by a reduction in the cleansing mechanism of the mouth as a result of reduced flow of saliva. Dry mouth can be caused by many factors, (the most common cause is after a night’s sleep see above). Other reasons may be:
  • Lack of fluid in the body (dehydration)
  • Following radiotherapy to the head and neck
  • A symptom of some diseases
  • A side effect of some medicines (check the medicine leaflet to look for side effects).

Smoking can cause ‘ashtray’ breath and the only way to get rid of this is to STOP smoking. Smoking also increases the risk of gum disease which is another cause of bad breath.

Dieting can cause a sickly sweet smell on the breath. This is due to ketones, a chemical created by the breakdown of fat. Some ketones are then breathed out with each breath.

If you suddenly have bad breath which is growing noticeably worse or is coupled with fever, cough, or other symptoms, seek medical advice.

Fear of Bad Breath (Halitophobia)

Some people think they have bad breath when they don’t. This results in strange and obsessive behaviour. Examples of this behaviour are covering their mouth when talking, keeping a distance from people and avoiding social situations. The phobia sufferer can become fixated on cleaning their teeth and tongue frequently, over use of chewing gums, mints and mouthwashes in the hope of getting rid of bad breath. This in turn can dry the mouth out actually causing causing bad breath or making bad breath worse! Talking to a psychologist can help. The best way to see if you have bad breath is to ask someone who you can trust to be honest and discreet.

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