Most people experience bad breath (halitosis) occasionally, especially after eating or drinking something potent, but for others it can be an ongoing problem.
If you suffer from persistent bad breath that isn't related to what you're eating and isn't relieved by the usual remedies, this could be a warning sign of an underlying problem.
Visit your dentist so they can determine what's causing your halitosis problem and recommend prevention and treatments that could help to improve your breath for good.
What are the symptoms of halitosis?
Bad breath isn't the only possible sign of halitosis. You might have more than a temporary breath problem if you also have:
- a bitter, sour or metallic taste in your mouth
- a dry or burning sensation in your mouth or throat
- thick or sticky saliva or reduced saliva flow
- a white coating on your tongue
- plaque build-up on your teeth around the gum line
- post-nasal drip or mucus in your throat
- swelling, discharge or other symptoms of an infection
These symptoms can point to a range of oral health or general health issues that need a professional diagnosis by a dentist or doctor. Addressing these underlying conditions could improve your breath as well as lower your health risks.
What causes bad breath?
There is no single cause for bad breath, which may be benign or a symptom of something more serious. Your dentist will aim to identify the cause so they can recommend suitable treatments.
Reasons for halitosis can include:
- Food and drink – certain foods such as garlic and onions release foul-smelling compounds during digestion. These are circulated through the blood and can enter the lungs, where they affect the breath. Consuming other strong-smelling food and drink or changing your diet may also affect your breath, but this is usually only temporary.
- Poor oral hygiene – food trapped between teeth can release odours as it decays. Not brushing and flossing your teeth properly also allows bacteria to build up, which can lead to tooth decay, gum disease or infections that can give rise to bad breath.
- Dry mouth – not drinking enough water or sleeping with your mouth open can cause your mouth to dry out, which allows bacteria to build up. If your mouth feels constantly dry, this may be due to a condition known as dry mouth syndrome or xerostomia that affects the salivary glands.
- Tobacco use – smoking or chewing tobacco can leave odours on the breath that persist long afterwards. Smoking is also a major risk factor for conditions associated with bad breath, such as gum disease and dry mouth.
- Medications – certain medications such as antihistamines and antidepressants may cause dry mouth as a side effect.
- Nose, throat or digestive conditions – problems such as acid reflux, sinusitis, tonsillitis or objects lodged in nostrils may affect the breath.
- Other medical conditions – certain diseases and metabolic disorders may cause bad breath as a side effect, including diabetes and kidney failure, but these are less common causes.
Treatments for bad breath
Your dentist will examine your mouth and may ask about your medical history or other information they need to help them identify the likely cause of your halitosis. It may also be possible to determine the cause based on your breath's odour or chemical makeup.
Bad breath often has several causes, which can involve multiple treatment recommendations. Depending on your individual case, these may include:
- Improving your oral hygiene
- Cleaning your tongue
- Improving your diet
- Preventing dry mouth
- Quitting smoking
- Seeing a doctor
- Seeing a dentist
Improving your oral hygiene
Oral hygiene is how you care for your teeth and gums every day. Many cases of halitosis are caused by poor brushing and flossing practices, and addressing these may lead to instant improvements in your breath and your oral health.
If your dentist thinks you need to improve your toothbrushing technique, they may advise:
- Brushing your teeth for 2 minutes, at least twice a day
- Using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste
- Not brushing too vigorously or straight after meals, as this can damage tooth enamel
- Switching to an electric toothbrush if you find it difficult to use a manual toothbrush effectively
- Changing your toothbrush or electric toothbrush head every 3 months or if the bristles become frayed
As well as toothbrushing, it's also important to floss around your teeth at least once a day. If you find dental floss difficult to use, your dentist may recommend trying an interdental brush or water flosser instead.
Your dentist may also prescribe a mouthwash containing fluoride if you need to boost your oral hygiene further. Alcohol mouthwashes should be avoided, as these can contribute to dry mouth.
It's also important to thoroughly clean any dental fixtures or appliances you have, such as crowns and bridges, dentures or braces, as these can also harbour food, bacteria and odours.
Cleaning your tongue
As well as brushing your teeth, brushing your tongue can also remove trapped food, dead cells and bacteria that can cause odours. These bacteria are more common towards the back of the tongue and throat and are more likely to build up if you smoke or have a dry mouth.
Some manual toothbrush heads have a tongue cleaner on the opposite side to the bristles. Alternatively, your dentist may recommend a specialist tongue scraper, which are designed to apply pressure evenly across the tongue surface.
Tongue cleaning should be done at least once a day, scraping gently from the back of the tongue to the front.
Improving your diet
One of the first steps to getting rid of bad breath is to avoid foods with strong odours, such as garlic and onions, but improving your diet might not end there.
- Alcohol and caffeine drinks can also contribute to bad breath by drying out the mouth, so your dentist may recommend avoiding these or limiting your consumption.
- Sugary food and drinks – such as lollies, biscuits, cakes, fruit juice and soft drinks – can also increase your risk of developing oral health problems related to bad breath, so these should be avoided or consumed in moderation.
- Sipping water or rinsing your mouth alongside meals, snacks and drinks may also reduce their effects on your breath, but this isn't always enough.
Preventing dry mouth
Dry mouth may be a temporary condition or may require treatment. You may be able to reverse temporary dry mouth by:
- drinking plenty of water throughout the day to keep your mouth hydrated
- eating whole fruits and vegetables with a high water content
- eating crunchy vegetables or chewing sugar-free gum or sugar-free candy to stimulate saliva flow
- avoiding tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and other diuretics
- using a humidifier if the air in your rooms is too dry
- talking to your doctor about changing medications if these may be causing dry mouth
If these measures are not enough to prevent dry mouth, your dentist may prescribe an artificial saliva substitute or medication to help stimulate saliva. If there is a physical obstruction in your salivary glands, this may require surgery to remove.
Smoking or chewing tobacco contributes directly to bad breath, as well as increasing your risk of developing associated problems such as gum disease and dry mouth.
Giving up smoking could permanently resolve this issue, as well as lowering your oral health and general health risks and reducing teeth staining. Cutting down on how much you smoke could also make some improvement.
If you need help to kick the habit, your dentist or doctor may recommend over-the-counter products such as nicotine patches or prescription medications that could help to reduce the urge. You could also find help in support programs or by calling Quitline on 13 QUIT (13 7848).
Seeing a doctor
If your bad breath may be a sign of a health problem or a side effect of medication you're taking, you should make an appointment with a doctor. Your dentist may also refer you to your GP or another suitably qualified professional.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and may perform a range of checks to determine what problem you may be dealing with so they can recommend appropriate treatments.
Seeing a dentist
Your dentist will normally be your first port of call if you're concerned about a breath problem. They can determine whether this is likely to be a symptom of gum disease, dry mouth or another condition and will explain all of your treatment options.
Visiting for your regularly scheduled check-ups twice a year will give your dentist the chance to catch problems related to bad breath before they develop, while professional teeth cleaning and other hygiene treatments help to remove and prevent plaque build-up.
Do you need to see a Gold Coast dentist?
If you're worried about bad breath or other possible signs of a dental problem, our experienced dentists at Robina Town Dental can identify the root cause of the problem and discuss all of your treatment options with you.
To make an appointment with our dentists or find out more about our treatments, call our team today on 07 5575 9100. You can also book an appointment online or find our dental clinic in Robina Town Centre.
We serve all nearby suburbs including Burleigh Heads, Burleigh Waters, Clear Island Waters, Mermaid Waters, Merrimac, Miami, Mudgeeraba, Varsity Lakes and Worongary.
Better Health Channel. Halitosis or bad breath [Online] 2012 [Accessed January 2022] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/halitosis-or-bad-breath