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How to Get Rid of Bad Breath

Having bad breath stinks.

It can be mortifying to see people shrink away when you open your mouth or to worry that you are turning off a potential love interest or co-worker with your halitosis. The worst part is that while many of us know we have bad breath, few of us know how to get rid of it.

Take heart: This problem can be solved. By identifying what is halitosis, what causes bad breath and treating it properly, you can find the secret to how to get rid of bad breath.

Perhaps it's your own breath that smells bad or maybe it's your child's. Read on to learn how to prevent bad breath in children and adults, and stop living in fear of people shrinking away when you open your mouth.

What is Halitosis?

First let's give a little background on bad breath. The more sophisticated term for bad breath is halitosis. This condition occurs when a foul odor is emitted from the mouth upon exhaling. About 20 percent of the population suffers from halitosis, though for a very small percentage of halitosis sufferers, bad breath is actually a symptom of another problem and not a condition in itself.

Halitosis is one of the main reasons people seek dental care. In fact, only tooth decay and periodontal disease spark more visits to the dentist than bad breath. The social impact of bad breath is second to none when it comes to dental problems. People worry about being left out or ostracized because of halitosis, which is often no fault of their own. They simply don't know how to get rid of bad breath.

Why Do I Have Bad Breath?

A frequent refrain among those who suffer from halitosis is, "Why do I have bad breath?"

The most common explanation for the cause of bad breath is that bacteria builds up in your mouth below your gum line and at the back of your tongue. These bacteria give off terrible odors, often compared to sulfur, and they come out every time you exhale with your mouth open. Often this bacteria buildup is an indication that you're not doing a good enough job brushing and flossing. Food particles that get left behind in your teeth and on your gums can generate the bacteria that cause halitosis.

This is particularly true for children as they age. When mom and dad are no longer in charge of the toothbrush, junior may not be doing as good a job getting all the bacteria out of his mouth. If parents start to notice halitosis in a child who previously had none, that could be an indication of poor brushing habits.

However, bacteria buildup is not the only reason you may suffer from bad breath. It can also reflect what type of foods you've eaten. Smelly foods such as garlic and onions taste delicious going down, but they also leave an odiferous trail. They smell all the way down to your intestine, and no amount of brushing or mouthwash will make the problem go away. You must actually expel the food before the smell goes away.

Smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco can also lead to bad breath. Tobacco has a foul odor, and it lingers even when you haven't had a dip or a smoke in days. It's just one of the many bad side effects on your mouth that result from these habits. As long as you are a tobacco user, you're going to have bad breath.

What Causes Bad Breath: Beyond Bacteria

Though more than half the cases of bad breath are caused by bacteria buildup, halitosis can also be a side effect of other, more serious problems. In these cases, bad breath may be a red flag for a disease or chronic illness. If you have persistently bad breath that does not respond to treatment or gets better briefly and then worse, then you may suffer from one of these other conditions.

Here's a quick rundown of what other health problems may cause halitosis, or bad breath:

  • Gum disease: An excessive buildup of plaque on the teeth leads to gum disease, and it can cause serious damage to the mouth and jawbone if it is not treated.
  • Salivary gland disorders: Dry mouth is a side effect of salivary gland disorders, and it leads to bad breath. When saliva is not present to move out the bacteria that accumulates on the tongue, halitosis persists.
  • Postnasal drip, sinus problems and bronchitis: Any nose or lung problem can result in a buildup on the back of your tongue. After a while, it starts to stink.
  • Acid reflux: Chronic sufferers of the disease have so much acid burping back up into their mouths that they develop a sour smell.
  • Liver or kidney problems: Those with liver or kidney problems have very distinct bad breath, which gives a clue to what's happening lower in the body. A rotten egg odor is associated with liver problems, specifically cirrhosis, while kidney problems produce an ammonia-like smell.
  • Sleep apnea: This sleep disorder, which often causes people to breathe out of their mouths, can lead to dry mouth when you wake up in the morning, and that's a cause of bad breath.
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes can develop a sweet smell in their mouths that, while not fitting the traditional definition of bad breath, is still very noticeable. You should seek medical attention immediately if your breath regularly smells like cake or cookies.

Finally, if you have been on a severe diet, you may also develop bad breath. Fasting or cutting out carbs can cause halitosis, because your body enters the fat-burning state of ketosis. This results in the accumulation of foul-smelling ketones in your body, and they are released when you breathe out. The best way to ensure your breath returns to its normal smell is to eat a balanced diet.

Do I Have Bad Breath?

Now that we've covered what is halitosis, you may find yourself wondering if you actually have bad breath or if it's just your imagination. Unless someone has told you flat out that your breath stinks, it can be very hard to determine whether you're suffering from halitosis. Only in extreme cases can your nose detect the stink of bad breath in your own mouth. This causes many people to worry that they have bad breath and simply don't know it.

The best way to figure out if you have bad breath is to enlist the help of someone you trust to do a simple smell test. Breathe on them and ask if your breath smells. If they are honest, their answer will help you figure out whether you truly suffer from halitosis or if you're worrying about nothing.

It can be tough to make yourself vulnerable enough to blow potentially stinky breath on another person, however. If you don't want to ask someone else but you do want to know if you have bad breath, there's one other way to try to detect it. The stink of halitosis will linger on your dental floss after you have flossed your teeth. Take a whiff of your floss when you're done. If it smells, that means you have bad breath and the smell on the floss is coming out of your mouth. If the floss does not have a strong odor, it likely means you're in the clear.

If you have children and you're worried about bad breath, you can perform the sniff test on them as well. Just remember to perform the sniff test at a reasonable time of day. Don't do it first thing in the morning, when your child has just crawled out of bed.

Nearly all of us have bad breath after we wake up, because bacteria has been forming in our mouth overnight when production of saliva decreases. The lack of saliva means the food and debris left in your mouth simply sit there, creating bad odors.

Instead, wait until after lunch or dinner to perform the sniff test, when your child hasn't brushed too recently but also is far enough from waking up that the results won't be skewed by morning breath.

If your child has braces or a retainer, bad breath could also be a symptom that the device is not fitting properly and bad-smelling bacteria are building up in the ill-fitting spots. Mention the problem to your child's orthodontist and dentist.

How to Get Rid of Bad Breath

While bad breath can feel like a daunting problem, don't fear. There are many proven ways to cure halitosis, temporarily or for the long term. Whether it's you or your child battling the problem, here are a few tips on how to get rid of bad breath:

Brush and floss more: In an ideal world, you would brush and floss your teeth following every meal to get rid of the debris that buildup each time you eat. The less debris you have, the less chance of bad breath.

Switch to an electric toothbrush: Electric brushes do a more thorough job of cleaning the mouth, plus they can be set with a timer, ensuring that you spend the right amount of time brushing.

Consider a tongue scraper: This tool is specifically designed to scrape out all the junk that accumulates in the back of your mouth. It's helpful if your halitosis is a long-term problem and not something that just pops up occasionally.

Use the right mouthwash: Stick to antiseptic or antibacterial mouthwashes, which inhibit the growth of halitosis-causing bacteria. Use them after every meal if possible.

Eat crunchy vegetables and fruits: Snacking on carrots, celery and apples in between meals - anything that requires a lot of chewing and isn't sticky - is a great way to clear out debris from the mouth when you don't have a chance to brush.

Skip smelly foods: If you're serious about getting better breath, it's time to lay off the allium family, which includes onions and garlic. Though you may miss the taste of the food, if you're that concerned about bad breath, you're better off choosing less-smelly foods.

Pop in a piece of chewing gum: Gum helps spark production of saliva, which clears out halitosis-causing bacteria. Make sure it's sugar-free gum, though, or you will find yourself battling a whole different dental problem: tooth decay.

Check your medications: Certain antibiotics and other prescription drugs give you dry mouth as a side effect, leading to bad breath. See if there's an alternative drug without the dry mouth side effect that you could try, or ask your dentist about special mouthwashes and toothpaste made for those with dry mouth, helping to spark salivary gland production.

How to Prevent Bad Breath

Don't wait until someone faints when you open your mouth to start fighting off halitosis. There are many easy ways to practice preventative care, ensuring you will never have to wonder how to get rid of bad breath. Instead, you'll be cutting off halitosis before it starts to gestate.

Here are a few tips on how to prevent bad breath:

Brush the back of your tongue: Bacteria has a tendency to build in the back of the mouth, where toothbrushes may not reach. Be sure to use your brush to scrape the back of your mouth as well as the top; basically, try to get any spaces that you may have missed when you did your teeth. This is especially important for children. Drill into them the importance of brushing their tongue early in life, and it will become an ingrained habit.

Drink lots of water: Water flushes out the small pieces of food and debris that naturally accumulate in your mouth during the course of a day. Because water has no odor, it is a better choice than juice or milk to drink.

Avoid mouthwashes with alcohol: As we've established, lack of saliva production is part of what causes bad breath, and alcohol can dry out the mouth. Alcohol may also damage your mouth because it's so harsh, so you're better off with a mouthwash that contains more gentle ingredients.

Avoid sugary mints: Many people mistakenly think how to get rid of bad breath is to pop a mint into your mouth. In reality, the sugars in the mint ferment in your mouth and lead to even worse halitosis. Use sugar-free mints if you must, but remember that mints only mask a foul odor for a few minutes. They're not a lasting solution to bad breath.

Stop drinking coffee: This won't be a problem for youngsters with halitosis, but it may be rough for adults. Alas, coffee can cause dehydration of the mouth and also has a high acid content, which encourages the breeding of bacteria.

Brush your child's teeth: If your son or daughter consistently has bad breath, it may be time for mom and dad to take back brushing duties. At the very least, monitor their habits more closely and consider setting a timer so they spend enough quality brushing time.

Drop the dairy products: Dairy can also be bad news for mouths, as bacteria thrive on the proteins in milk and cheese. Eliminate these foods and you cut off a major source of bacterial reproduction.

See your dentist regularly: If you're wondering, "why do I have bad breath," the answer may be you've skipped too many routine dental appointments. Plaque can build up if you don't have regular cleanings, leading to halitosis.

Get a physical: Going to the dentist is only one part of good oral hygiene. You also need to get regular checkups from your doctor to make sure that your bad breath is not being caused by an underlying medical condition, such as the ones detailed earlier. Describe any symptoms that may be related to your bad breath, and don't be shy about sharing your problems. Your doctor is there to help, not judge your icky breath.

Beating Bad Breath

By understanding what causes bad breath, taking the right steps to cure it and being proactive about how to prevent bad breath in the future, you can avoid the social stigma of halitosis.

Remember, regular dental checkups are an important part of treating bad breath. If you live in the Yuma area, Yuma Dental can help you get regular cleanings in order to prevent halitosis.