Bad breath is unpleasant and embarrassing for the people afflicted with it and for those around them. According to Colleen Ann Gelman, a specialist dental hygienist from BettaSmile, over 50% of the world’s population suffer from bad breath. This is most often caused by teeth or gum problems, but sometimes smelly breath can indicate some other medical condition. For this reason, it’s best to never leave bad breath untreated.
Generally speaking, bad breath is caused by trouble with the usual suspects:
- Your teeth – cavities or the build-up of plaque and tartar.
- Your gums – gingivitis and periodontal disease, with bacteria caught in the pockets between your teeth and gums.
- Your tongue – bacteria collects on your tongue.
- Your sinuses – a sinus infection with a drip down the back of your throat.
- Your throat – a throat infection.
- Something you ate or didn’t eat – garlic, onions or too much protein can cause bad breath, as can fasting or hunger.
But sometimes bad breath can be the result of something a little more unusual. The less obvious causes of bad breath include:
- A gastric problem, including an ulcer, hernia or reflux – the bacteria that cause ulcers can also cause bad breath.
- Pregnancy – as a result of the hormones, reflux and dehydration.
- Kidney or liver trouble, which can cause the build-up of toxins that smell bad.
- Diabetes – as a result of the ketones produced when the body fails to break down glucose and turns to fat instead.
The treatment approach for bad breath will depend on what is causing it. While there are other conditions that can cause bad breath, it’s always advisable to start in the obvious place – at your dental hygienist.
“A good cleaning of your mouth by a dental hygienist can reverse this problem,” says Colleen Ann Gelman, a specialist dental hygienist from BettaSmile.
But good oral hygiene every day at home will go a long way to combatting the causes of bad breath. Colleen recommends gently brushing your teeth and gums twice daily with a soft toothbrush and flossing every night.
“When you brush your teeth, you only get ninety percent of the food off. Ten percent stays in between. You need to remove this by flossing or using a thin plastic toothpick. If you leave food on a counter top, it rots and the same happens if you leave food between your teeth. It rots and causes bad breath until it’s removed.”
Bianca Beyleveld, an oral hygienist at the Sandton Dental Studio, recommends using an electric toothbrush. “A regular toothbrush is fine if you use a good technique – which is a gentle circular motion that covers a wider area on the tooth and touches the gums. But an electric brush has sonic technology or rotation technology that cleans the narrow gap between the gum and the tooth where plaque builds up, ultimately becoming a much harder line of tartar.”
She adds that the tongue is an often-overlooked part of a brushing routine. “Eighty percent of the bacteria in the mouth is found on the tongue. The tongue has a very big surface covered in papilla which are hair-like formations. So, you need to brush the tongue to keep the bacteria from building up,” she says.
Smokers can have an even worse condition called chromatic bacteria, when the surface of the tongue goes black and causes serious bad breath.
Colleen recommends visiting your dental hygienist twice a year for a check-up and treatment. A dental hygienist helps keep your mouth and teeth in good shape, to prevent problems – including bad breath.
If you are visiting an oral hygienist specifically for concerns around bad breath, Bianca says you should take the treatment and follow their advice for a month. This will involve all the good practices mentioned above as well as, in all likelihood, a recommended oral rinse.
Only if that doesn’t work should you start investigating other possible causes.
“After we’ve eliminated all the oral factors without seeing any results, we will then refer patients to a physician to find out whether there are any other underlying causes,” says Bianca.
It’s good to know that there is always an underlying cause for bad breath. Start with a visit to an oral hygienist (you should be going twice a year anyway), and if they can’t identify the underlying cause, they will refer you to someone who can. But chances are that a good oral hygiene routine will banish your breath blues forever.
The Sandton Dental Studio
011 326 5153
083 378 3392