Bad breath, also called halitosis, can be embarrassing. In some cases, it is caused by less than optimal oral hygiene. But chronic bad breath can also signify more significant problems. Chronic halitosis is more common than you think and can only be temporarily relieved with basic oral hygiene. This is because chronic bad breath doesn’t exist on its own; it’s often a symptom of a more severe problem and cannot be resolved without the proper treatment.
It’s certainly not a topic our patients like to discuss. But it’s an important one. So here we go:
- Does plaque buildup cause bad breath?
- Can tartar cause bad breath?
- Can a professional teeth cleaning help with my bad breath?
Having this conversation may be the beginning of the end of the Bad Breath Problem.
What causes Bad Breath?
While many causes are harmless, bad breath can sometimes be a sign of something more serious.
Bad breath can happen anytime, thanks to the hundreds of bad breath-causing bacteria that naturally live in your mouth. Your mouth also acts like a natural hothouse that allows these bacteria to grow. When you eat, bacteria feed on the food left in your mouth and leave a foul-smelling product behind.
Your mouth might not be making enough saliva. Saliva is important because it works around the clock to wash your mouth. If you don’t have enough, your mouth isn’t being cleaned as much as it should be. Dry mouth can be caused by certain medications, salivary gland problems, or by simply breathing through your mouth.
Bad breath that won’t go away or a constant bad taste in your mouth can be a warning sign of advanced gum disease caused by the cavity-causing bacteria called plaque.
The list of breath-offending foods is long, and what you eat affects the air you exhale.
Smoking and Tobacco
Smoking is terrible for your teeth, gives you bad breath, and puts you at risk for several health problems. Tobacco reduces your ability to taste foods and irritates gum tissues. Tobacco users are more likely to suffer from gum disease. Since smoking also affects your sense of smell, smokers may not know how their breath smells.
Mouth infections can cause bad breath. However, suppose your dentist has ruled out other causes, and you brush and floss every day, your bad breath could result from another problem, such as a sinus condition, gastric reflux, diabetes, liver or kidney disease. In this case, your dentist may refer you to another healthcare provider or specialist to address this problem.
What you can do to prevent Bad Breath
To reduce bad breath, help avoid cavities and lower your risk of gum disease, consistently practice good oral hygiene. Further treatment for bad breath can vary, depending on the cause. If your bad breath is thought to be caused by an underlying health condition, your dentist will fix what is in his realm of expertise and/or refer you to your provider, that can address other health issues.
- Mouth rinses and toothpaste. If your bad breath is due to a buildup of bacteria (plaque) on your teeth, your dentist may recommend a mouth rinse that kills the bacteria. Your dentist may also recommend a toothpaste that contains an antibacterial agent to kill the bacteria that cause plaque buildup.
- Brushing and flossing. We know that you know how to brush your teeth. But do you really know how to brush your teeth? Everyone has blind spots. Your dentist can help you identify those and provide tips on how to reach the hard-to-reach places.
- Don’t forget your tongue. When you brush, make sure you give your tongue a good scraping as well. A lot of bacteria collect on the back of your tongue.
- Clean dentures or other dental appliances. Food and bacteria get under your dentures. Clean regularly with non-abrasive cleaners and keep them clean.
- Chew sugar-free gum to keep your saliva going. It helps wash out debris and bacteria.
What your Dentist can do to fight Bad Breath
Address Poor Oral Hygiene Habits
Poor oral hygiene habits can easily affect how your breath smells. In fact, one of the most common causes of bad breath is a lack of flossing. Bacteria and food particles can get stuck between teeth, causing severe bad breath and tooth decay. Your dentist can help with this particular problem by offering advice on how to better care for your teeth. With a simple oral examination, your dentist can determine if your teeth are as clean as they should be and what measures you can take to improve your routine at home.
Good oral hygiene plays a significant role if you’re wondering how to get rid of bad breath with braces and dentures. Keeping your mouth clean when you have braces can be a little more challenging because food and bacteria have more places to hide. Your dentist can provide product recommendations like special toothbrushes, flossing devices, special toothpaste, and mouthwashes to help clear away bacteria and freshen your breath when you have braces.
If you have tried various store-bought mouthwash options without success, ask your dentist about therapeutic mouthwashes or rinses. The dentist will have to determine if they are an option for you, but dentists have an arsenal of more powerful options available to prescribe to their patients.
Treat and Prevent Gum Disease
The benefit of visiting your dentist is that they won’t just help diagnose gum disease but can treat and help prevent it. Periodontal disease, more commonly referred to as gum disease, is an infection of the gum tissue. The first stage of gum disease is gingivitis, which is completely treatable and reversible. If gingivitis is ignored and allowed to get worse, the infection causes small pockets to form around the teeth. These small pockets act as craters for bacteria, food particles, and odors to reside, and it is almost impossible to clean these areas without professional care. This can result in chronic bad breath that is difficult to treat on your own.
Remove Calculus and Tartar Buildup
If it’s been a while since your last routine dental cleaning and you struggle with bad breath, it’s time to make an appointment. Professional teeth cleanings work by removing hardened plaque and calculus from your teeth. Even with the best dental techniques and tools, plaque can harden on different surfaces of the teeth and is impossible to remove without the help of a hygienist. This hardened plaque and calculus cause bad breath and can create problems with gingivitis and tooth decay.
Replace Old Dental Restorations
In some cases, the cause of bad breath involves older restorations or appliances. An older bridge or crown can begin to loosen, causing bacteria and odors to reside underneath the restoration. Old dentures or partials may start to have odors that are impossible to remove with just soaking and cleaning alone. Most dental restorations are not meant to last a lifetime, so having them replaced regularly can benefit your oral health. Your dentist can check for loose restorations and replace older appliances.
Treatments for Tooth Decay
Tooth decay may be the culprit for bad breath in many cases. The goal is to remove the decay from the tooth and replace it with a dental filling. In some cases, a root canal is necessary if the decay has been allowed to reach the inner pulp or nerve of the tooth.
Teeth that have broken off and have become severely decayed may need to be extracted. Your dentist can examine your teeth and create a treatment plan specific to your needs. Taking care of broken, decayed teeth can have a significant impact on improving your breath.
Screen for Oral Cancer
While less common, oral cancer can cause persistent bad breath and bad breath in the throat areas behind the mouth. There are many other marked signs of oral cancer, like lesions and lumps within the mouth, constant oral pain, and tongue numbness. However, a dental checkup can help your dentist check for signs of oral cancer. If clinical symptoms are detected, you can receive treatment early to help prevent cancer from progressing.
It’s important to note that most cases, bad breath is not oral cancer-related and is typically caused by another problem like gum disease, poor oral hygiene habits, or tooth decay. But a good dentist should screen for oral cancers.
There is Help
If you’re in Norman or the greater OKC metro area and are concerned about what might be causing your bad breath, schedule an appointment to see Dr. Wheatley at Tecumseh Ridge Dental. Regular check-ups will help Dr. Wheatley spot any impending problems, such as gum disease or dry mouth, and stop them before they become more serious.