Chronic bad breath is more than just an embarrassing condition. It may also be an indicator of a more serious dental issue that needs to be addressed and treated as soon as possible. Sometimes referred to as halitosis, the unpleasant odor from bad breath may be consistent or come and go depending on the cause. In many cases, the odor stems from an overabundance of bacteria, which grows easily in the mouth due to the unusually warm, wet environment inside the oral cavity.
Causes of Bad Breath
Most people experience bad breath at some point in their lives. The phenomenon known as “morning breath” that many patients experience upon waking is completely normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern. This occurs because while your sleep, your mouth produces less saliva. This allows bacteria to grow on the surfaces of your gums, cheeks, and tongue, causing an unpleasant odor.
The more troublesome forms of bad breath can have a number of causes, including:
- Poor dental hygiene – If you fail to brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothbrush, or if you are using the improper technique when brushing and flossing you may develop chronic bad breath. Food particles, plaque, and other deposits can collect on your teeth and gums, providing a rich breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
- Oral infections – A tooth abscess, infected cavity, and periodontal disease can all cause an unpleasant odor in the mouth when present.
- Respiratory tract infections – believe it or not, your respiratory system, including the sinus, is connected to the oral cavity. If you have an infection in your lungs, throat, or sinuses, you may develop bad breath as a result.
- Diet or habits – it is no secret that using tobacco products can affect your breath. Beverages such as coffee and foods such as garlic and onions can cause your breath to smell bad, but this form of bad breath should clear up as soon as you brush your teeth or use a mouth rinse.
- Dry mouth – the saliva in your mouth keeps your teeth, cheeks, and tongue well lubricated. This helps to wash away food debris and keeps bacteria from sticking to the surfaces in your mouth. Chronic dry mouth reduces the amount of saliva your mouth produces, which can result in bad breath.
- Chronic Illness – chronic health problems such as acid reflux, kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes can cause a strange or bad smell in the breath.
It is nearly impossible to smell your own breath. Over time, your nose becomes adjusted to the smell that comes from your mouth when you breathe or talk, and you no longer notice it. In most cases, you may not be aware that you have bad breath until someone tells you. There are other signs that you may have bad breath, however, such as:
- Plaque deposits on the teeth, a whitish film on the tongue, or swollen and pale gums;
- A draining fistula (a visible tooth abscess on your gums full of puss), loose teeth, a change in the fit or your dentures, or sores on your tongue;
- Swollen lymph nodes, a yellow or green nasal discharge, or a cough that produces a lot of mucus;
- Coffee or tobacco stains on the teeth;
- A formal diagnosis of a chronic medical condition such as kidney failure, liver disease, or diabetes.
Oftentimes, you will be diagnosed with halitosis by your dentist while he performs a routine dental exam. At the same time, the dentist will often be able to see the cause of the problem and recommend a treatment. For some patients, the smell of the breath alone is an indicator of a larger health issue. For example, patients whose breath has a somewhat urine-like smell may be suffering from kidney disease, while those with untreated diabetes may have a fruity or sweet smell on their breath. If you know that you have chronic medical conditions or if you take medications regularly, it is important that you let your dentist know immediately. You will also be asked questions about your personal habits, diet, and any dental symptoms that you’ve noticed that could help diagnose the cause of your halitosis.
In the case of poor dental hygiene or improper brushing and flossing technique, bad breath can be cured relatively quickly. The same is true for issues caused by diet or personal habits. If your halitosis is caused by things such as tooth decay, periodontal disease, or an abscess, it will also improve quickly once you have received proper dental care.
Bad breath caused by chronic illness or dry mouth may be a long-term issue. In these cases, you will be prescribed medications, special rinses or toothpaste, or other measures that may help to control the problem. You will also need to be sure you receive proper medical treatment for any chronic illness you have; this can help improve or even eliminate the issue.