With so many products claiming to keep breath fresh and sweet-smelling, you'd think we'd never need to worry about oral hygiene. But chronic bad breath – also known as oral malodour or halitosis – affects about half of the population, and for half of those sufferers, it creates personal distress.
Here's what you need to know about bad-breath control.
1. Halitosis is caused by the same compounds found in rotten eggs.
These sulphur compounds are released when bacteria in the mouth break down protein from food, explains Dr. Wayne Halstrom, a Vancouver dentist and former president of the Canadian Dental Association.
2. The more bacteria present, the greater the chances of having bad breath.
Bacteria proliferate when they have places to hide. Such fertile conditions are in play when you have:
• periodontal disease;
• teeth that need dental work;
• a buildup of plaque (calcified material deposited on the teeth); and
• a habit of not brushing regularly.
Severe periodontal disease of the gums or the bones under the gums can also cause inflammation, and this may produce foul-smelling pus, too.
3. Certain diseases are associated with particular oral odours.
• Kidney disease causes a fishy odour.
• Diabetes creates a fruity smell.
• Liver disease produces rotten-egg breath.
4. Stress can cause bad breath.
We all know how quickly our mouths can go dry when faced with a stressful situation such as public speaking. When stress is chronic, that dry mouth can be a hotbed for bacteria. As Dr. Ted Fillery, head of the faculty of dentistry and oral microbiology at the University of Toronto, explains, saliva is produced from glands both in the sides of the mouth (runny) and under the floor of the mouth (thicker). “When stressed, the body shuts down the runny saliva, so the saliva in the mouth changes from runny to thick,” he says. “Most of the bacteria that would normally be swept away by fluid saliva hang around, some of which are malodour-producing.”
5. Some products can kill oral bacteria, but only temporarily.
Regular oral hygiene is absolutely fundamental to bad-breath control, but sometimes this isn't enough. “A lot of people clean their mouths meticulously and yet still suffer from bad breath,” says Fillery. For these people, one of the following products might help:
• an antibiotic such as Flagyl;
• a mouthwash containing an antibacterial agent such as chlorhexidine (Peridex);
• products that contain xylitol, an all-natural sweetener that stimulates saliva production, which helps remove food debris and bacteria; or
• toothpaste that contains sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).
According to the Canadian Dental Association, here's what you should
be doing as part of your oral hygiene.
• Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride-containing toothpaste to remove food particles from your mouth.
• Brush your tongue and the sides and roof of your mouth at the same time.
• Use dental floss at least once a day to remove food particles from between your teeth. If you don't floss, you're missing more than one-third of your tooth surface.
• Have your teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist every six months to make sure plaque – and bacteria – does not accumulate.
Other dentists suggest these tips:
• Drink plenty of water, which helps keep teeth moist and healthy.
• Avoid sugar, which causes decay and feeds bacteria in your mouth.