What should I do if I have bad breath?

Regular checkups will allow your dentist to detect any problems such as gum disease, a dry mouth or other disorders that may be the cause. Maintaining good oral hygiene, eliminating gum disease and scheduling regular professional cleanings are essential to reducing bad breath. Regardless of what may be the cause, good oral hygiene is essential. Brush twice a day and clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaners. Brush your tongue, too. If you wear dentures, be sure to remove them at night and clean them thoroughly before replacing them the next morning.

Is bad breath always treatable?

In the past, bad breath was often considered to be an incurable affliction. However, in recent years it has become increasingly evident that bad breath is usually treatable once a proper diagnosis is made. The main problem is knowing whether we have it or not, because we are poor judges of our own breath odor. Some people suffer from bad breath without knowing it, while others build up exaggerated fears about breath odor even though they do not have it. The best way to find out whether we have bad breath is to ask for someone else's opinion. If we don't ask, other people are unlikely to tell us. And since bad breath can sometimes - fortunately rarely - be a sign of a significant general health problem, we should not be reluctant to tell people dear to us that they have a bad breath problem. If your dentist determines that your mouth is healthy and that the odor is not of oral origin, you may be referred to your family physician or to a specialist to determine the cause of the odor and for treatment. Of course, if the odor is of oral origin, as it is in the majority of cases, your dentist can treat the cause of the problem. If the odor is due to gum disease, your general dentist can either treat the disease or refer you to a periodontist, a specialist in treating gum tissues. Gum disease can cause gum tissues to pull away from the teeth and form pockets. When these pockets are deep, only a professional periodontal cleaning can remove the bacteria and plaque that accumulate. Sometimes more extensive treatment is necessary. If you have extensive build-up of plaque, an invisible layer of bacteria, your dentist may recommend using a special antimicrobial mouthrinse. Your dentist may also recommend that when you brush your teeth, you also brush your tongue to remove excess plaque.

What are some of the causes of bad breath?

Bad breath can be caused by such things as certain foods, poor oral hygiene, gum disease, a dry mouth (xerostomia), tobacco products or a medical disorder. When bacteria accumulate because of poor oral hygiene or gum disease, or when saliva is lacking, bad breath can result. Saliva is necessary to wash away food particles and bacteria. Certain medications and disorders can lead to a dry mouth. The tongue has small ridges and grooves on the surface which can trap food, plaque and bacteria. If these grooves are not cleaned regularly with a tongue cleaner or a tooth brush, they can cause a foul odor. The back of the tongue is an especially critical area to keep clean. Sometimes a sinus infection, postnasal drip or other respiratory tract infection can cause bad breath. If bad breath is persistent, contact your dentist to determine whether the cause is of dental origin. Gum disease if left untreated can also be a major cause of bad breath. Tarter builds up around the teeth in gum disease and causes a foul odor to be emitted. Teeth that are decayed emit foul odors. The decay process is caused by bacteria eating away the tooth structure. The gases and waste products of the bacteria give off the typical odor of bad breath.

Where does the odor come from?

Most cases of bad breath appear to be due to the breakdown of proteins by a variety of micro-organisms. Several of the breakdown products are foul smelling gases. In people with healthy teeth and gums, the odor usually comes from the far back region of the tongue, and grows stronger when the patient starts talking. The dentist can sample this area using a plastic spoon. The odor coming from the spoon sample may then be compared to the overall odor. Although we do not know why, the very back of the tongue is an important source of bad breath, possibly as a result of postnasal drip, which can get stuck on the tongue and is then broken down by bacteria on the tongue surface. If the back of the tongue is the problem, then the dentist can recommend a method of cleaning the area, either with a toothbrush, or a specially designed tongue scraper (in some countries, tongue cleaning is a common and ancient practice). It takes time and patience to overcome the gagging reflex. But, eventually, tongue cleaning becomes easy. Care should be taken to clean the back of the tongue thoroughly yet gently, without inflicting pain or sores.

Can gum disease cause bad breath?

In some people, bad breath is associated with gum disease, especially if rubbing the areas between the teeth and gums yields a foul odor. Your dentist can help prevent and treat gum diseases in various ways, depending on the type and extent of the problem, but your own daily home care makes all the difference in the world in maintaining gum health between appointments. Cleaning of the spaces between the teeth is of great importance. One home tip to healthy gums (and less bad breath) is to smell the odor coming from the dental floss, and to work to clean those areas more carefully. People with gum disease often have higher levels of odor coming from their tongue, as well.

What type of treatment is there?

Your dentist may recommend dental treatment, if there are other areas in which bacteria and food can become trapped and cause odor. The dentist may also suggest daily rinsing with one of several available mouthwashes which have been scientifically shown to reduce bad breath over time. Your dentist may also refer you to clinics that specialize in identifying breath odors, or to other medical experts. Where can I get products that will be useful in treating bad breath? After determining the cause of your halitosis, your dentist will be able to prescribe or recommend those products that can be helpful for you.

What can I do?

In all probability, professional diagnosis and treatment can help turn bad breath into good breath. However, it is sometimes difficult for us to sense the improvement ourselves. In this case, a family member or close friend can also provide important feedback and reinforcement. Listed below are some of the Do's and Don'ts regarding bad breath. Remember, bad breath is a problem that needs professional attention. Don't mask it - deal with it.

How do I find a dentist who treats bad breath?

Dentists are taught in dental school about the oral causes of bad breath (halitosis). If you have bad breath, you may want to start by talking to your general dentist about treatment options.

Do's :

1.Visit your dentist regularly. 2.Have your teeth cleaned periodically by a dental professional. 3.Floss or otherwise clean between your teeth, as recommended by your dentist. Choose unscented floss so that you can detect those areas between your teeth that give off odors, and clean them more carefully. 4.Brush your teeth and gums properly. Ask your dentist to recommend a toothbrush or scraper for your tongue. 5.Clean your tongue all the way back gently, but thoroughly. Drink plenty of liquids. 6.Chew sugar-free gum for a minute or two at a time, especially if your mouth feels dry. Chewing parsley, mint, cloves or fennel seeds may also help. 7.Clean your mouth after eating or drinking milk products, fish and meat. 8.Unless your dentist advises otherwise, soak dentures overnight in antiseptic solution. 9.Get control over the problem. 10.Ask a family member to tell you whenever you have bad breath. 11.If someone in your family or a close friend has bad breath, find a kind way to let them know. If you can't tell them directly, leave this fact file lying around. They may get the message. 12.Eat fresh, fibrous vegetables such as carrots.

Don'ts :

1.Don't let your concern about having bad breath run your life. 2.Don't be passive. 3.Don't be depressed. Get help. 4.Don't ignore your gums - you can lose your teeth as well as smell bad. 5.Don't drink too much coffee - it may make the situation worse. 6.Don't forget to clean behind the back teeth in each row. 7.Don't brush your tongue with regular toothpaste - it's better to dip your toothbrush in mouthwash for tongue cleaning. 8.Don't run to the gastro-enterologist for concerns of having bad breath - it usually comes from the mouth and almost never from the stomach. 9.Don't give mouthwash to very young children, as they can swallow it. 10.Don't clean your tongue so hard that it hurts. 11.Don't rely on mouthwash alone - practice complete oral hygiene.