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Halitosis

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Oral hygiene is important for all, especially women. The various stages a woman goes through, puberty, pregnancy and menopause are closely related to fluctuating hormone levels. At every stage, there are contributing factors that can result in dental problems. It could be mouth ulcers, dry mouth, gingivitis, dry socket etc. Unpleasant odor or bad breath is a prominent dental problem faced by women during premenstrual period. It is due to hormone fluctuations.


Gender apart, what are the common reasons for bad breath? Here is an article about halitosis or bad breath. Get to know halitosis causes, treatment options and easy preventive steps that can be taken to avoid its recurrence.


Causes of halitosis


Halitosis originates in the mouth but can also originate from nasal cavity. Halitosis is more commonly known as bad breath or sour smelling breath. Halitosis affects men and women equally. According to the National Institute of Dental Research, USA, more than 65 million Americans suffer from halitosis at some point of time during their lifetime. Bad breath can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term) depending on the cause.


The most common cause widely known is bad oral hygiene. There are other causes that can result in halitosis - consumption of certain types of foods or of taking certain medications or even certain medical conditions.


Oral bacteria: The mouth is home to many bacterial organisms which normally live within the surface of the tongue and in the throat. The bacteria serve a purpose - to assist with digestion of proteins. The bacteria break down the protein found in food, dead cells, and blood and mucous. Under certain circumstances, these helpful bacteria can turn into halitosis. If the bacteria come into contact with the amino acids in proteins, they produce sulfur compounds (dense sulfur) from the back of the tongue and throat. This can ultimately cause an unpleasant odor. Here are ways to minimize halitosis caused due to oral bacteria.


  • If halitosis is caused due to oral bacteria, it is best to adhere to diets that help minimize the problem. Persons who maintain a vegetarian diet with more fruits and vegetables tend to have fewer bad breath problems compared to those who consume a protein rich diet comprised of meat.

  • Realizing the importance of developing a habit of cleansing the mouth thoroughly after eating, and brushing after consuming a protein rich food is advantageous.

Foods: After eating foods that have a stronger odor like onions, garlic, and certain vegetables, nuts, cheese, coffee, fish etc. the taste, the smell lingers on the breath long after eating them. Once these foods are consumed and digested, they are absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to the lungs. This lets the odor flow from the mouth area every time during the process of exhaling.


Abstaining from such foods cannot be a permanent solution. Avoiding, rationing the intake and brushing the teeth or using mints after consuming these foods are ways of tackling halitosis caused due to consumption of certain types of foods.


Dry mouth: Xeroztomia is the medical term for dry mouth. It refers to a state of dryness of the mouth as a result of decreased secretion of saliva or absence of saliva flow. Saliva contains calcium and phosphate. It is required to recharge tooth structure and make teeth less susceptible to decay.

Saliva has other important purposes, it aids in digestion, cleanses the inside of the mouth and rinses teeth to keep it clean, moisturizes soft tissues of the mouth, wets food and eases process of chewing food, awakens the taste buds etc. When enough saliva is not produced, dead cells build up. There is a higher chance of gum disease and decay. It can lead to halitosis. Here are ways to tackle to halitosis due to less saliva.


  • Brushing after every meal
  • Washing mouth frequently
  • Increasing liquid intake
  • Eating sugarless candy
  • Using prescription artificial saliva product.


Smoking: The deleterious effects of smoking include xeroztomia or dry mouth; build up of nicotine on teeth, tongue and gums, reduced ability to taste foods, teeth stains and irritation in gums besides the lingering smoke odor. These help increase the anaerobic bacteria which in turn can lead to halitosis.


The only effective and permanent solution to tackle halitosis due to smoking is to quit smoking. There are other healthy alternatives that can support the decision such as chewing candies, exercising etc. Drinking plenty of water, practicing disciplined oral hygiene, not allowing the mouth to remain dry are ways to minimize the problem.


Alcohol: Alcohol may be odorless but one of the side effects of consuming alcohol is bad breath or halitosis. Alcohol consumption can result in digestive disorders, drying of mouth and also provide a suitable environment for bad breath causing bacteria to thrive. All these can lead to halitosis.


Here are ways to tackle bad breath due to alcohol consumption. Chewing mint flavored gum or a fruit flavored gum, adopting a consistent oral hygiene, munching on snacks such as salted peanuts while having alcohol can help deal with the problem.


Dental hygiene: A lazy, lethargic attitude can eventually result in halitosis. Brushing teeth twice a day and flossing at least once a day prevents cavities. If not, tiny pieces of food remain in the mouth, helping bacteria formation. Individuals who wear dentures need to clean them regularly to prevent odors.


Diseases and health conditions: There are certain health conditions like dental problems, nasal discharge in the throat, sinus infections, upper respiratory infections, lung abscesses, throat infections and bronchitis that can cause a distinctive breath odor. These health conditions can cause halitosis due to bacteria emitting hydrogen sulfur vapors.

Deficiency in Vitamin C can contribute towards bad breath. Those with diabetic ketoacidosis may have a sweet or fruity odor of acetone, those with liver failure may have sulfurous odor, and those suffering from renal failure may have an odor of urine or ammonia.


The best way to tackle halitosis caused due to health conditions is to talk to a health care provider and find ways of eliminating the sulfurous taste in the mouth. Also drinking plenty of water to get rid of the odor is beneficial. Popping Vitamin C tablets is best for those facing a deficiency of vitamin C.


Medications: Intake of certain medications, prescription and over-the-counter medications can have a drying effect in the mouth. Antidepressants, antihistamines, birth control pills, high blood pressure medicines, decongestants, medicines for indigestion, hormone replacement medicines fall under this category. Bad breath due to medications may be a temporary concern as the odor disappears as soon as the medication leaves the bloodstream. Illegal recreational drugs can also make the mouth go dry.


It is highly recommended to talk to health care provider and discuss ways to tackle halitosis caused due to medications. At the same time, drinking plenty of water, sugarless fluids, water with lemon can help. Also, keeping away from caffeine, spicy foods and salty foods is beneficial. Adopting ways to stimulate saliva like chewing mint flavored gum, consistent importance to oral hygiene can counteract the effects of medications.


Self-diagnosis of halitosis

It may sound unpleasant and can be annoying too. However, these are the two most common ways to self-diagnose halitosis.


  • Lick wrist, let it dry for few seconds and then smell the area.
  • Cup hands over mouth, sniff own breath.


If the odor is unpleasant check if one or a combination of halitosis symptoms exists.


  • White or yellow film on the tongue.
  • A bitter or sour taste in the mouth.
  • Constant dry mouth
  • Inability to eliminate odor even after following good oral hygiene.


Treating halitosis

Halitosis treatment depends on the underlying cause. The first step is deciding to seek professional help rather than self-medicating. Once the underlying cause is known and treated, halitosis will disappear. Go for a thorough dental check-up. Here is what to expect.


  • A thorough examination will help determine if it is chronic or acute halitosis.

  • The doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical examination which will include a thorough examination of the mouth and nose.

  • For patients with sore throat or mouth sores, a throat culture examination will be done.

  • The next step would involve a detailed discussion; questions related to halitosis the duration, or when the patient experiences bad breath will be asked.

  • Certain tests to narrow down the exact cause of bad breath like blood tests to screen for diabetes or kidney failure, endoscopy, x-ray of the abdomen and x-ray of the chest.

  • Antibiotics may be prescribed for some conditions.

  • If halitosis is a result of gum disease, dentists may refer patients to peridontists - specialists in treating gums.

  • If the dentist is not satisfied with the brushing and flossing techniques being followed, an effective change will be recommended.

  • If tartar is found, dental cleaning to remove the debris from the teeth will be carried out. This in turn can make brushing and flossing more effective.

  • The dentist may look out for any untreated dental conditions that may be causing or aggravating bad breath problem. Remedial measures will be suggested.

  • Methods to reduce or eliminate sulfur odors will be discussed.


Tips to combat halitosis

Besides seeking medical help, there are certain things that can be done to relieve symptoms of halitosis. Use these self-care tips and banish bad breath; smell good all day and every day.


  • Maintain proper oral hygiene. Brush teeth at least twice a day with a soft bristled brush.

  • Use tongue brush, tongue scraper or tongue cleaner to brush the tongue.

  • Use dental floss to remove accumulated particles stuck between teeth.

  • Change tooth brush every 2-3 months.

  • Avoid foods that may get stuck between teeth.

  • Chew parsley after eating, a natural mouthwash.

  • Use a mouthwash to gargle mouth.

  • Drink plenty of water, 10-12 glasses a day.

  • Follow dentist's recommendations regularly and consistently.

  • If dentures are used, remember to remove at night, clean and then only use.

  • Chew sugarless gums to contribute towards better saliva production.

  • Don't skip breakfast and allow stomach to be empty for long. Eat or drink every 2-3 hours.

  • Don't postpone dental check-ups.

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