It’s something most of us have encountered at least once in our lives – halitosis, or bad breath – and it can strike anyone, anywhere. Perhaps you’ve been in the uncomfortable position of having an up-close conversation with someone afflicted by halitosis, their face only 2 feet from yours – or maybe, you’ve had the awkward experience of being told that your breath could do with a bit of freshening up!
It’s often through another person that we learn our breath is bad – because typically, we can’t smell it.
What Causes Bad Breath?
The most obvious cause of bad breath is pungent food or drink. Common offenders include garlic, onions, curry and other strong spices, alcohol – and tobacco. The interesting thing about strong smelling and tasting foods is that the odorous oils are absorbed into the bloodstream and released, hours later, by the lungs, via exhaled breath. Until this process is over, manically brushing your teeth or flooding your mouth with a mint-flavoured rinse will just partially correct the problem.
Another cause of bad breath is an unclean mouth. According to Dr. Richard H. Price, spokesperson for the American Dental Association, “Mouth odour is… the result of microbes… giving off byproducts.” Mouth bacteria are in a state of constant interaction with food particles, as well as blood and living and dying tissue. Such a biologically active environment means that sulphur compounds are formed, and if bacteria are allowed to overgrow (ie, if you don’t regularly clean your mouth), the quality of your breath suffers.
Gum disease – which is largely preventable through good oral care habits – and dry mouth are two more causes of bad breath. In the case of the former, bloody, damaged gums create the perfect environment for the mouth bacteria we just discussed to proliferate. In the latter case, a dry mouth means less saliva to flush out bacteria, allowing them to flourish and multiply.
The growing popularity of low-carb diets may do wonders for some people’s waistlines – but an intentional reduction in dietary carbohydrates puts the body into a state of ketosis – where it burns stored and dietary fats for fuel in the absence of carbs. A side effect of this way of eating is the exhalation of built-up ketones through the breath. Some of them simply smell unpleasant.
Sometimes, bad breath can indicate a more serious problem at play. Gastro esophageal reflux disease, diabetic ketoacidosis (not to be confused with the relatively benign, and often intentional dietary ketosis) – a serious condition that can lead to diabetic coma – and liver or kidney disease can all cause bad breath.
Cures for Bad Breath
A clean mouth smells better. Breath mints, mouthwash and gum are your friends – but they don’t get to the root of the problem. Consider them a useful adjunct to correct brushing and flossing, but not a treatment. For total results, consider adding tongue scraping to your oral care routine.
Stay hydrated. This means drinking enough fluids – water is preferable – especially after exertion or working in a dry environment. Many indoor spaces have very dry air in the winter – consider using a humidifier.
Be mindful of your diet and other habits. There’s no denying that many of us enjoy eating food with onions and garlic in it, and for some of us, tobacco or a glass of spirits is a simple pleasure – but few of us enjoy the aromas that waft, unbidden, from another’s mouth hours after the fact. Try to consider what you ingest if you know you’ll be interacting with others – and if you simply had to have that double garlic kebab before your important business meeting, try chewing parsley to put the brakes on bad odours. Cranberry juice seems to eliminate certain smells and make it harder for mouth bacteria to stick to surfaces.
Reconsider your low-carb diet. “Ketone breath” is resolved by only one thing: eating carbs, which your body then begins to burn as fuel, eliminating the malodourous side effect of dietary ketosis.
When in doubt, see a doctor. If your oral hygiene is good, you drink enough liquid, onions and garlic aren’t staples in your diet, you don’t smoke and your carb intake is sufficient – and your bad breath persists – see a medical professional to rule out any of the more serious potential causes of halitosis.
Here’s to your fresh breath!