Understand what causes bad breath

Copyright 2006 David Drinkall

Most people suffer from bad breath at some time in their lives. For something so commonplace, bad breath (or halitosis) isn’t fully understood by the medical community.

Though the reasons for bad breath odor are not completely understood, most unpleasant odors are caused by food debris trapped in the mouth. It is really amazing to find as many as 400 different types of bacteria in an average mouth!

Trouble can occur when several dozen of these bacteria are allowed to flourish. Huge numbers can soon build up, or they may become genetically mutated before they reproduce in a large number.

Many species of these bacteria are usually found on the back of the tongue, where they find protection from normal mouth activity. The rough edges of our tongue usually harbor millions of bacteria, which create toxins by digesting debris, dead cells, and other residues. These toxins are harmful because they create a bad odor in the breath.

The chemical reactions – technically called anaerobic respiration -of these bacteria will accumulate residual compounds containing smelly sulfides and ammonia. These undesirable compounds often further mix with the breath to form an aerosol (spray of fine particles) further spreading the bad odor.

Other causes of chronic bad breath may be periodontitis (gum disease), diabetes, kidney failure, sinusitis, tonsilloliths, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), and a wide variety of prescription drugs.

But, as you may expect, the majority of bad breath problems begin in the mouth. As we’ve seen, bad breath originating in the mouth can be traced to a sulfur compound produced by bacteria. Dead and dying bacterial cells release this sulfur compound, which gives the breath a bad odor.

In addition, bacterial plaque, debris and food waste accumulate on the back of the tongue. Large amounts of sulfur compounds can be produced in this area, making it a frequent site of origin for bad breath.

Teeth attract bacteria by containing plaque and debris. If not cleaned regularly and thoroughly, this can result in large accumulations of bacteria which result in bad breath.

People who have Periodontitis disease often experience bad breath because of bacteria accumulating in areas that are not cleaned easily, such as deep fissures around teeth.

If your bad breath is originating in your mouth, you will be glad to know that very effective treatment is available.

You can use commercially available breath fresheners or mouth washes for temporary relief from bad breath. However, most of them are just that and act by masking the smell producing layers of tongue, once the effect wears off, the bad breath will resurface with renewed vigor.

Using anti-bacterial mouth rinses may provide you better results in controlling bad breath. Always avoid alcohol containing mouth rinses as alcohol is a drying agent and will worsen the problem sooner or later.

Acute bad breath may be temporarily controlled by using a hydrogen peroxide rinse in your mouth. Hydrogen peroxide at a minute concentration of 1.5% can be taken as an oral antiseptic by gargling 10 ml, for a few minutes.

Never forget to brush your teeth after meals and a regular flossing at least once in a day will remove putrefying food debris from between the teeth, especially at the gum line and rear of the tongue.

Gently cleaning the tongue surface twice daily with a tongue brush, tongue scraper or tongue cleaner will help you keep your tongue and teeth in good shape and health.

Alternatively, you can also use an inverted teaspoon to scrap the surface of your tongue. Tooth brush will not work well in scraping the back of your tongue as the bristles will not reach the back parts of your tongue. Be careful to avoid scraping the V-shaped row of taste buds found at the extreme back of the tongue. Brushing a small amount of antibacterial mouth rinse or tongue gel onto the tongue surface will further inhibit bacterial action.

Since a dry mouth can increase bacterial buildup and cause or worsen bad breath, chewing sugarless gum can help with the production of saliva, and thereby help to reduce bad breath. Some gums, toothpastes, sprays, and gels which combat dry mouth for several hours have recently been marketed over the counter.

Maintain water levels in the body by drinking several glasses of water a day. Adding lemon juice to your water is refreshing and also beneficial. Parsley is a natural breath freshener when chewed slowly, and is easy to grow at home.

Some studies have shown eating yoghurt, drinking green tea, or chewing cinnamon or sugarless cinnamon gum can also reduce bad breath.

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