Bad breath is bad news. Nobody enjoys being in the line of the fetid vapors from someone whose best friend hasn’t told him (or her). Some might not know their problem. The majority are acutely aware of it, but often don’t do anything to fix it up. Bad breath does not just happen. Invariably there is a cause, and most causes are curable.
There is a lot of truth in the once popular comic strips which suggested that bad breath could be fixed – even though the purported claims for doing this were perhaps questionable.
Normally the air we exhale should not be unpleasant. It contains a large amount of carbon dioxide which comes from the lungs. But if, on the way out, the air passes over areas which contain a large amount of debris, then it must become contaminated and give the effect of smelling unpleasant.
It is a bit like the fumes coming from a garbage tip which contains decaying refuse. That is anything but nice. For this reason, any infection along the pathway that the air takes can produce bad breath. Incidentally, if you prefer to use a rather more euphemistic term, “halitosis” is the one the doctors prefer.
This means that infections of the oral cavity, the nasal passageways or lung system may all play a significant part. Each of these should be checked one by one when a determined effort is started to track down and get rid of the basic cause.
Therefore, the first line of attack is to pay a visit to your dentist. The mouth should be the starting point. Decaying teeth mean trouble.
1. Tooth Decay
Sometimes this may not be obvious, for it is possible for dental caries (the dentist’s term for decay) to occur in teeth surfaces that are hidden from your own view on inspection. Each tooth has many sides, and particularly when adjoining surfaces are involved, it may be very difficult for these areas to be discovered.
Often a dental X-ray will indicate caries, for they may even seem hidden when the dentist inspects them. X-rays are invariably diagnostic, and indicate not only the situation but the extent of any underlying decay. And defects should be attended to promptly.
2. Mouth Ulcers
Besides the teeth themselves, it is common for tiny ulcers to occur on the linings of the gums or oral cavity. Here, pus and blood may accumulate. In turn, these may produce very unpleasant breath, for they are well-known trouble makers.
As with any rotting tissue, the smell may be vile. As long as they persist, so will the unpleasant odor. Some people are unlucky enough to have recurring mouth ulcers. These may be painful, and keep on keeping on. Some claim these have an allergy basis, others say they are an infection.
Various drugs are available (generally from your doctor) which help cure these, and also help to check their recurrence. They are sometimes called aphthous ulcers. The drugs metronidazole, hydrocortisone lozenges and sodium cromoglycate have all been used with varying degrees of success in treating recurring ulcers.
Frequently rinsing the mouth with hot salty water is a good, simple, costless (that’s something) way of giving the oral cavity a clean fresh taste.
Over the years, enormous numbers of fancy mouth washes and rinses have been promoted. Few if any of these have been proved, over a period of time, to be any better in reducing oral infection or reduced bad breath. Some may certainly produce a fresh sweet fragrance in the mouth for a short period of time, but as an ongoing measure, you might as well save your money.
In fact, one large American company which persistently made extravagant claims for the oral benefits of their product recently ran into king sized difficulties in America. They subsequently had to spend a large sum of money informing the public that there was no real benefit to better oral hygiene in using the product.
Hot salty water is roughly equivalent to normal body fluids, and for this reason is quite useful.
3. Pieces of Food
Other potent troublemakers are pieces of food or fragments of meat that become stuck in crevices between the teeth. They may stay there for days, unnoticed, and decay, so producing unpleasant breath. Sometimes these may be felt pressing on the gums. Removing them with a toothpick or piece of thread will often get rid of this cause.
Brushing the teeth after a meal helps remove bits of food and also gets rid of surface debris. It imparts a feeling of freshness; that’s why peppermint flavorings are often used.
Extending the brushing routine so that it includes the gums above and below will help massage these parts and will help keep them in good health. Simple massaging of the gums by a rotary movement with the fingers is also a good idea.
If you cannot brush your teeth after meals, at least rinse the mouth with water immediately after you have eaten, or eat an apple. Go easy on foods containing a lot of sugar which tends to stick to teeth so promoting decay.
Smoking is probably the greatest single cause of bad breath. Sensible people will revise their smoking habits, for a heavy (or even often a light) smoker has the characteristic breath odor. It will be more apparent to a person who is not accustomed to smoking. Smoking also predisposes to infections of the total respiratory tract. Give it some thought.
If the simple measures mentioned fail to produce the desired results, it is time to visit your friendly family doctor. He will check the tonsils and throat for infections, and see if there are germs lurking in the sinuses or nasal cavities. If these are all right, he will then check out the lungs.
Sometimes infections, chronic pockets of germs, abscesses, bronchiectasis, may be underlying the problem. Investigations may be needed, such as X-rays. But once a diagnosis is made, treatment is then usually successful.
So there is really no excuse for bad breath. A cure should be just around the corner. Try it.