Halitosis is the medical term for bad breath and refers to unpleasant odors emanating from the mouth and sometimes even the nasal passages. There is a lot of embarrassment attached to halitosis or bad breath and though it is not a serious medical condition, it can lead to problems in interacting with others. Bad breath could shatter a persons self-confidence and self-esteem and lead to situations of social isolation and even depression. Bad breath could even be responsible for poor professional and personal relations and therefore requires treatment at the earliest.
There are also a lot of false notions about what causes bad breath. It is not as simple as attributing halitosis to poor dental hygiene. In many cases, bad breath could be a result of several factors including an underlying illness or medical condition. Nearly a quarter of adults suffer from bad breath at some point of time and dentists list halitosis as the third most popular reason for dental visits, the first two being tooth decay and bleeding gums.
Symptoms of Halitosis
Needless to say the most obvious symptom of halitosis is bad breath. However, it is sometimes very difficult to judge for yourself whether your breath smells bad or not. An easy way to check this is to blow into cupped palms and smell for yourself. You will soon know if you suffer from bad breath or not. There are other ways to tell if you have bad breath, and other symptoms that could occur simultaneously.
- If you are still unsure, it may be better to get a second opinion from a friend or family member. He or she could also tell you whether the unpleasant odor is coming from your mouth or nasal passages making it easier for you to treat the condition.
- A general symptom for most people who suffer from halitosis, no matter what the cause, is the presence of a whitish or yellowish film on the tongue. This is caused due to the build up of mucus and bacteria as a result of a chronic post-nasal drip in the mouth especially at the posterior part of the tongue.
- Dry mouth is another symptom of bad breath, as well as being a cause of halitosis. The reduction of the amount of saliva in the mouth causes odors to appear stronger and more unpleasant. A dry mouth also alters the pH balance making the area more responsive to bacterial growth. Dry mouth can be caused by certain medications, dehydration, aging, caffeine, and excessive use of mouthwashes and rinses that are alcohol-based.
- A bitter, sour or unpleasant taste in the mouth is also a symptom of acute halitosis. Typically, this unpleasant taste may actually be caused by dryness of the mouth, certain oral medications, dental problems and bacterial infections, and these could also be responsible for halitosis.
- If you are unsure about the severity of your bad breath, make a note of whether the condition is resolved by brushing your teeth or flossing. In mild cases of bad breath, caused by eating certain foods for example, just brushing your teeth could get rid of any lingering or offensive odors. On the other hand, if you suffer from acute bad breath, no amount of brushing or gargling will treat the condition in the long-term. In fact, excessive brushing of teeth could lead to a worsening of the bad breath as well as damage to the gums and teeth.
- Halitosis is often marked by a loss of self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Depending on the severity of the condition, the person suffering from bad breath could have his personal and social relationships affected. In extreme cases, complete social isolation could lead to depression and other mental problems.
Causes of Halitosis
Bad breath is often a sign that something is wrong with your health and should not be ignored. Following are the main causes of bad breath:
- Tooth decay or / and gum disease such as gingivitis
- Dentures and bridges
- Mouth sores
- Dry mouth
- Post-nasal drip and congestion of the nasal passages
- Food stuck between the teeth
- Coating of the tongue caused by a build up of bacteria
- Infection of the throat and tonsils
- Nasal polyps
- Bronchitis or pneumonia
- Acid reflux and GERD
- Chronic constipation
- Digestive problems and stomach ulcers
- High-protein diet that includes fish, cheeses, and meats
- Foods that are strong smelling or spicy such as onions and garlic
- Certain medications
Remedies for Halitosis
A visit to the dentist should be your top priority if you do suffer from halitosis. When you go see your dentist, make sure you do not mask the bad breath with mints and by brushing your teeth, as this will not indicate the severity of the condition. A dentist will be able to determine whether the cause of your bad breath is due to any tooth decay, gum disease or oral problems. Until then, you could try using some of these basic home treatments for bad breath.
- Try using a tongue cleaner, especially at the back of your tongue, gargling with a mouthwash before sleeping, and chewing on sugar-free gum.
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and dry mouth, and
- Avoid caffeinated drinks and try to quit smoking.
- If the cause of your bad breath is gum disease it may be a good idea to include guava in your diet, as it is thought to be an effective remedy for halitosis. Guava contains oxalates and tannic acids in addition to calcium and manganese, all of which help strengthen the gums, reducing the occurrence of gum diseases such as gingivitis. Eating guava also controls bacterial build up in the mouth.
- Fenugreek should be consumed in the form of a tea made with one teaspoon of fenugreek seeds in one liter of water. Simmer till the water is infused and strain before drinking. When consumed regularly, fenugreek seeds are an excellent home remedy for halitosis.
- Making a tea or infusion with fresh parsley or cloves is also a good way to treat bad breath. Simply boil water with freshly chopped parsley and drop in a few cloves to the mix. Cool the mixture and strain before using it as a natural mouthwash after eating. There have been numerous studies supporting claims about the efficacy of cloves and clove oil in dental care.
Diet for Halitosis
If you suffer from halitosis try and include fresh vegetables, fruits and grains into your daily diet. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet will go a long way in treating digestive problems, tooth decay, gum disease and other ailments that can lead to bad breath. Problems such as constipation can be dealt with by increasing the intake of fiber through whole grains, breads, nuts and seeds. It is also recommended that you avoid over-processed food products and items containing white flour and refined sugars. Proteins such as meat and eggs can also lead to halitosis and should be consumed in moderation.
Changing your diet can also reduce the amount of oral bacteria that builds up. The wastes created by such bacteria are known as volatile sulfur compounds or VSCs and are what cause the unpleasant odor. Certain foods encourage the production of such bacteria and VSCs and eliminating them from your diet can help cure halitosis. For example, avoid foods such as onions, garlic, dairy, and extra sugary foods. Caffeine, carbonated beverages, and tobacco can all cause tooth decay and gum disease and subsequently lead to bad breath.
Apart from foods that you should avoid, there are also certain foods that help prevent bad breath. Green tea prevents the development of oral bacteria while yogurt helps with digestive problems that can cause halitosis. Crunchy fruits and vegetables such as carrots and apples reduce bad breath by removing plaque build up from your teeth. Fruits high in vitamin C also boost immunity and lower the risk of gum disease. Vitamin C also restricts the growth of bacteria in the mouth, but make sure your vitamin C is consumed through natural foods and not by supplements. This is because vitamin supplements can cause stomach upsets in some people consumed in excess.
Suggestion for Halitosis
Alternative cures for halitosis include yoga. The ancient art of yoga believes that bad breath can be cured through regular tongue and gum massages as well as through specific yoga postures and asanas. Regular yoga practice can help balance the digestive system and prevent constipation and therefore help get to the underlying causes of bad breath. Yoga and meditation also reduces stress and can decrease the chances of digestive ailments and stomach ulcers. Positions such as the Simhasana or Lion pose practiced daily can help treat halitosis. However, remember to always consult with your doctor before starting any new health regime and make sure you practice yoga under the supervision and guidance of a trained yoga instructor. While most of these claimed health benefits may be treated with a healthy amount of skepticism, yoga does offer tremendous health benefits, and a greater amount of research is needed on the subject.
- Malhotra R, Grover V, Kapoor A, Saxena D. Comparison of the effectiveness of a commercially available herbal mouthrinse with chlorhexidine gluconate at the clinical and patient level. J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2011 Oct;15(4):349-52. doi: 10.4103/0972-124X.92567. PubMed PMID: 22368358; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3283931.
Halitosis - Frequently asked questions
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