Common causes of bad breath (and how to minimise it)

Smoking and certain foods (such as onion and garlic) are notorious for causing bad breath – and are therefore best avoided before going on a first date or a job interview.

But did you know there are other reasons you may be experiencing a bout of halitosis?

Here are four common causes of bad breath, and what you can do to minimise it.

Trapped food particles that cause bacteria

The mouth is quite anatomically complex, therefore it’s really easy for food debris to get trapped. This typically begins with plaque – in other words, a sticky film of bacteria that coats your teeth. Plaque can get caught between your teeth and gums, forming bacteria-filled pockets known as periodontitis. Bacteria trapped by the tongue can further contribute to bad breath.

How to treat it:

  • Brush and floss daily. Good dental hygiene is paramount. This mean brushing your teeth and tongue twice a day for two minutes and flossing once a day. Brushing is key to removing plaque, bacteria and toxins, while flossing tackles those pesky bits stuck between your teeth that may have been missed by the brush bristles.
  • Clean dentures daily. If you have dentures, make sure you take care of them by brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush and denture cleaner to remove food particles, then soaking in a denture-cleaning solution.
  • Dentist-recommended antibacterial agents. If you feel you already practise good daily dental hygiene, then a trip to your dentist may help you further curb your bad breath. They can recommend a mouth rinse or toothpaste based on your specific circumstances.

Infections in the mouth

Infections caused by tooth decay, gum disease (gingivitis), mouth sores or surgical wounds are prime contributors to bad breath. Naturally, bacteria build-up is even more prone where infections are involved, therefore it’s important to get on top of any symptoms.

How to treat it:

  • Dental examination. If your bad breath is coupled with sharp pain or sensitivity when eating and drinking, or you’re experiencing swollen, sore or bleeding gums, it’s time to take a trip to the dentist. They can examine your mouth and pinpoint the cause of your bad breath, as well as how to best treat it.
  • Professional periodontal cleaning. Gum problems such as bleeding or swelling require professional cleaning conducted by a dental professional.
  • Replace or repair faulty tooth restorations. Infections on the back of surgical wounds are often caused by a faulty restoration, allowing the wound site to harbour plaque and bacteria. This will need to be repaired by a dentist.

Dryness of the mouth

Xerostomia – the medical term for ‘dry mouth’ – is another common culprit of bad breath. Saliva is necessary for cleansing your mouth, therefore a decrease in saliva production can result in build-up of particles that create bad odours.

How to treat it:

  • Drink plenty of water. It may seem like a no-brainer, but monitoring your fluid intake each day can help treat dry mouth and the subsequent effects of bad breath. Aim for two litres of water daily.
  • Moisturising agents. In some cases, upping your daily H20 isn’t enough to treat xerostomia. Your dentist can assess whether over-the-counter moisturising agents such as mouth sprays, rinses and gels are viable options.
  • Oral medication. If deemed appropriate, your dentist may prescribe medication that stimulates the flow of saliva.
  • Appointment with an oral medicine specialist. In more severe cases, your dentist can recommend a doctor who specialises in more complex concerns.

Nose and throat conditions

Aside from the mouth, conditions of the nose and throat can also cause bad breath. Examples include tonsillitis, sinusitis, bronchitis and gastroesophageal reflux. While direct treatment of such conditions is outside the scope of a dentist, there are a few things you can do to target the side effects of bad breath.

How to treat it:

  • Practise good dental hygiene. Again, this means brushing and flossing every day, and ensuring frequent water intake.
  • Avoid tobacco and alcohol. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol will only exacerbate bad breath; therefore these activities are best avoided if you suffer nose and throat conditions.