Halitosis, bad breath, breath malodor are all synonyms of something everyone is aware of. It is a very important indicator of a person’s oral hygiene. Bad breath symptoms are plain and simple: bad, foul smelling breath. It is basically a subjective perception on smelling one’s own breath or another person’s breath. Among the other hundred things that a person can be conscious about in public, how their breath smells probably comes in top 10. And rightfully so.
Before getting into the details of why it can happen and how to treat it, it is important to understand some terms related to it. The three main categories of Halitosis are:
1- Genuine Halitosis
This is when a malodor is actually present and can even be checked for through certain tests. The genuine halitosis can further be sub-categorized as being physiological and pathological. A physiological bad breath is transient and does not represent a health problem. Morning breath, bad breath after eating garlic or onion, bad breath after taking any medication i.e supplements are all examples of physiological halitosis. Pathological Halitosis is one that represents an underlying health problem. That health problem could be systemic or it could be originating from the mouth.
It is when an obvious malodor cannot be detected but the person is insistent that there is one.
It is a recognized psychiatric condition. If someone had genuine halitosis and got treated, or it was diagnosed as pseudo-halitosis and the person still feels bad breath then it is halitophobia.
Causes of Bad Breath
Systemic causes of bad breath: It is common for breath to have characteristic odor in many systemic dysfunctions and diseases. For example, the breath of a diabetic will smell like a sweet acetone. A person with liver disease might experience a sulfur-like odor. And a person with kidney disease might have breath that smells like fish. So, it important to recognize and try to treat breath malodor. And if despite efforts it does not resolve, then other more serious underlying causes should be ruled out.
Intraoral causes of bad breath: Any infections, accumulations of bacteria and so on, can cause intraoral halitosis. As in halitosis that has its origins within the mouth. For example, anyone suffering from Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis, or aggressive periodontitis will have a foul smell coming from their mouth. The bacteria that cause these infections and cling to the tooth surfaces feed on the carbohydrate substrate from our diet and produce volatile sulfur compounds. These volatile sulfur compounds are highly odoriferous.
The most significant of intraoral causes of halitosis is tongue coating. The tongue has a rough surface that is ideal for minute food particles and bacteria to get trapped. So, the food remnants and bacteria together form a coating on the tongue. This smells foul and if not paid attention to, can be difficult to get rid of. Many people ignore the surface of the tongue while brushing their teeth. The tongue needs cleaning just as much. There are tongue cleaners at the back of many toothbrushes and there are also tongue scrappers that can be used to keep the tongue clean.
Other pathologies that may also cause halitosis are acute necrotizing ulcerative periodontitis, ulcerations on mucosa infected with certain bacteria, herpetic gingivitis and so on. Dry mouth which is present in some diseases and conditions like xerostomia, diabetes, Sjogren syndrome and even with alcohol abuse, is associated with halitosis too.
With the details of the causes understood, we now come to treatment of Halitosis.
Bad Breath Treatment
Masking the Malodor
There are numerous approaches for bad breath treatment. The first one is most commonly used by all in day to day lives that is masking the malodor. This is done through lozenges, mouth freshening sprays, mints and so on. While it is an excellent practice to always have your breath smell fresh and nice, it is not enough.
Cure of Bad Breath Through Mechanical Means
Then comes the mechanical means of removing or reducing tongue coating and accumulations of food and bacteria. Tooth brushing falls in this category and is obviously the most widely used too. It is important to understand that proper tooth brushing techniques are extremely important otherwise it will not be nearly as beneficial. Apart from that, tongue scrappers should be used regularly. Another mechanical aid that can be used to improve oral hygiene (thereby eliminating halitosis) is dental flossing. If these methods do not prove to be enough, it is a good option to seek professional help and go for scaling and root planning.
Treating the Bad Breath Chemically
The third approach involves chemically reducing the bacterial load that is producing odoriferous compounds. A variety of mouthwashes and rinses are available in the market for this purpose. There are some important ingredients to look for in them for example Chlorhexidine. It is a very effective antiplaque and anti-gingivitis agent. It should be used in the concentration of 0.2% only to avoid side effects like bad taste, teeth staining etc. Essential oils can also help. Listerine rinse contains essential oils that are very effective in eliminating odorigenic bacteria. Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that is a good ingredient to look for in rinses aiming to help with the treatment of bad breath. Other ingredients include stannous fluoride, chlorine dioxide, baking soda.
Metal Salts for Bad Breath Treatment
The fourth approach is to convert the volatile sulfur compounds that cause bad breath to other non-odoriferous compounds. This can be done through metal salt solutions. Many rinses are available with metal salts like that of Zinc, Stannous and Copper.
All of these methods and approaches are definitely going to help with bad breath. But in the rare event of that not happening, it is advisable to seek professional and have health problems related to teeth and to the rest of the body ruled out. It is one of the most common problems that people face so there is no need to be embarrassed in seeking out professional help. Read more about natural home remedies for bad breath prevention.