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Persistent bad breath is something no one wants to suffer. So what exactly causes bad breath and how can someone prevent or get rid of it? We have the answers.

Bad breath — or halitosis — comes with a lot of embarrassment and social ridicule. In fact, bad breath is somewhat of a taboo topic, and people who have it may be scared to talk about getting treatment, even with their doctor. Seeking medical advice can be crucial and the only thing that solves your problem, however. Halitosis can be caused by numerous different underlying conditions, and surprisingly, not all of them are related to the oral cavity!

What Causes Bad Breath? Broadly speaking, the causes of bad breath can be divided into intra-oral and systemic factors.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Unsurprisingly, poor oral hygiene continues to be the number one cause of bad breath. Most people try and brush once a day, with a small minority brushing twice a day. If you're currently a once-a-day brusher, just keep this in mind: even if you brush twice a day, in the morning and the evening, some amount of plaque gets left behind. This eventually contributes to the formation of tartar, which harbors bad breath-causing bacteria. Start brushing twice a day now if you weren't doing so already. 

What else do you need to do?

People with teeth that are not perfectly aligned need to have a higher level of oral hygiene than others, since they are unable to clean each and every surface of their teeth effectively.

You also need to take care of your tongue. The tongue's surface, which has a rough feel, is actually made up of microscopic ridges and troughs. This makes it ideal for the colonization of halitosis-causing micro-organisms, which won't go away unless you actually clean your tongue. Yes, tongue cleaning should be a regular part of the daily oral hygiene routine! 

You can clean your tongue with your regular tooth brush by gently brushing the surface of the tongue. A lot of tooth brush manufacturers now also add a rough surface to the back of the brush — this is a tongue cleaner. You can also buy separate tongue cleaners from pharmacies.

Decaying Teeth

The presence of one or more decaying teeth in the mouth also causes halitosis. This is particularly true for teeth that are so rotten that they've been destroyed to a great extent: unwelcome bacteria have taken up permanent residence there. The destruction of the normal morphology of the teeth also makes the accumulation of debris a lot easier.

The simple solution to this problem is to make sure all decayed teeth are treated at the earliest possible opportunity. This will not only help fight bad breath but improve the overall hygiene and prevent complications.

Gum Disease

Gum disease or periodontal disease results in the formation of "pockets" around the necks of the teeth. These pockets develop over time due to the destruction of supporting fibers, and serve as ideal niches for halitosis-causing bacteria. The micro-organisms that produce bad breath grow in conditions that are low in oxygen, which are found at the base of these pockets. Their metabolic products include volatile sulfur compounds which result in the appearance of a foul odor.

The answer to fighting bad breath caused by gum disease is to get periodontal treatment. This involves scaling, curettage and even flap surgery if necessary to eliminate the niches of bacterial colonies that are causing the damage and producing bad breath.

Your doctor will begin with non-surgical treatment therapies and the re-evaluate before progressing to surgical options.

Continue reading after recommendations

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  • 60(1):17-9. Halitosis: a review.

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