Dr Hector | Halitosis. What is halitosis?
It simply means bad breath. Everyone knows someone who has bad breath and it is a difficult thing to do – telling a close friend his or her breath smells. Sadly, some people are acutely aware of the smell of another but oblivious of their bad breath. On the other hand, the occasional patient refuses to be reassured that there is nothing wrong with their breath. They have the fear of bad breath – halitophobia. This unnecessary worry is understandable because our sense of smell appears to be numb to our odour.
The International Society for Breath Odour Research was created in Leuven, Belgium, in 1995, at the occasion of the second International Workshop on Oral Malodor.[i] This field continues to attract an ever-increasing array of health and non-health professionals.
There are as many bacteria in one’s mouth as …you guessed right … nearly the number of people in the world [~6 billion], over 700 types of bacteria which produce different by-products in the mouth. There are the ‘good and bad guys’ in the mouth, some produce a pungent smell of sulphuric acid, others protect against it. The challenge for researchers is to find out which ones produce a sweet smell and vice versa. In years to come, when we know more about the inhabitants of this ‘world in a mouth’ halitosis may be kicked to the touch-line.
Who gets it?
Everyone at some point, approximately one in four persons at all times.
Why do people get bad breath?
- Food e.g. onions, garlic, meat particles
- Acidic beverage e.g. alcohol, fizzy drinks, coffee lower the pH level in your mouth which could favour the growth of certain bacteria.
- Diets low in carbohydrate can cause the body to burn fat not glucose with ketones and this (ketosis) can cause bad breath
- Smoking causes dry mouth, plaque build-up and reduced oxygen which favours overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria that thrive in the absence of oxygen.
- Plaque from build-up of bacteria
- Tartar – hardened plaque
- Cavities in the teeth
- Gum disease
- Infections elsewhere – sinuses (air spaces in the facial bones), lungs, gastrointestinal tract, other systems.
- Chronic diseases e.g. diabetes
- Sleep: It is suggested that when we sleep, we produce less saliva, have less oxygen in our mouth and a higher likelihood of bad breath when we wake up. Eating, drinking and speaking result in more saliva production.
- Sometimes people who are fasting and who are not reticent tend to have stale breath
- Medicines which cause dry mouth e.g. antihistamines, some antidepressants
How can you know if your breath smells?
- Lick the back of your hand with the inner part of your tongue, let it dry and smell it (assuming you’ve not lost your sense of smell).
- Look at your tongue in the mirror. Is it coated?
- Self breath-testing kit
- A halimeter test[ii] by a dentist
How to get rid of halitosis? Keep your mouth clean and free of food debris as some bacteria digest these food particles and give off foul smell.
- Toothbrush: Brush your teeth thoroughly twice daily (for two minutes each time).
- Floss daily to remove plaque from those parts of your teeth unreachable by your toothbrush
- Tongue: The tongue can play host to foul-smelling combination of food debris, bacteria and by-products. Brush your tongue well, maybe use a tongue scraper.
- Mouthwash: Use a mouth wash containing chlorhexidine gluconate twice daily, especially at night to give you a better breath in the morning.
- Drink Water: Keep well hydrated. Drink as much as your body needs, more when your urine gets darker. A dry mouth means less saliva. Saliva naturally inhibits bacteria activity because it contains oxygen and removes food debris.
- Rinse your mouth with plain water after meals and other drinks
- Sugar-free mints and chewing gum help increase salivation
- Foods rich in Vitamin C; green tea, crunchy fruits and vegetables may help improve one’s breath
- Visit Your Dentist: Children and adults should have their teeth checked and cleaned by a professional ideally twice a year. A dentist can also treat existing infections and other oral diseases such as cavities.
Food for thought: How would you tell someone his breath smells?
There are some factors to consider especially the timing and how well you know them – close family/ friend, acquaintance or stranger. While you’re pondering over what to do, you can forward this article to them or share your approach with us.
Remember, the oral industry is saturated with toothpaste, mouth washes and sprays, gums, mints and more. There is no substitute for basic, daily mouth care: brush, floss, rinse.
Our goal in KayHector Consulting Ltd is to have well-informed people/patients who take responsibility for their health and become experts at differentiating trivial symptoms from even subtle ones that require prompt attention and a visit to a health professional. Taking responsibility for one’s health will be recurring themes here as well as medical information in plain English.
Thanks to modern technology, our health information may only be a fingertip distance from you! We can also signpost you to Private GP/Specialist consultation via telephone, video link, online chat or face-to-face.
KayHector Consulting Ltd