11 reasons you have bad breath (and cures for each one!)

Bad breath can be stressful and embarrassing. But luckily, adopting a good oral hygiene routine can minimise bad breath. Consistently brushing twice a day, cleaning in-between the teeth and using a tongue cleaner/scraper can help, along with regular visits to your dentist and hygienist. Staying hydrated and using sugar free gum or mints are a great way to stay fresh throughout the day.

The most common cause of bad breath, also known as halitosis, is poor oral hygiene. As various food and drinks are consumed throughout the day, they often become trapped between our teeth and stuck in small folds of the tongue and other areas of the mouth. If this build up isn’t removed daily, the bacteria in your mouth help it thrive, resulting in bad breath. In addition to scaring off your significant other, bad breath can also lead to an increased risk of gum disease and dental decay.

The most common culprits of bad breath are pungent foods that are high in sugar, alcohol, smoking, digestive issues and dry mouth. Paying attention to the onset and persistence is key in discovering its cause.

Advice about bad breath is one of the most commonly-asked questions I receive from my patients, so I thought I’d outline why you’re most likely to have bad breath, and advice on how to cure each of these.

1. You have gum disease: Most adults in the UK have gum disease to some degree. If you have gum disease, your gums may bleed when you brush your teeth and you may have bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth. Gum disease is caused by the buildup of plaque on the teeth and gums. Bacteria cause the formation of toxins to form, which irritate the gums. If untreated, it can damage the gums and jawbone.

The early stage of gum disease is known as ‘gingivitis’. If it is not treated, a condition called ‘periodontitis’ can develop. This affects the tissues that support teeth and hold them in place. If periodontitis is not treated, the bone in your jaw may be damaged and spaces can open up between the gum and teeth. Your teeth can become loose and may eventually fall out.
How to treat it: Visit your hygienist for a clean and tailored oral hygiene plan to suit your needs.

2. You’re not drinking enough water: Dehydration can cause bad breath because bacteria that live in the mouth tend to multiply as the mouth dries out. This leads to a decrease in saliva which acts as a buffer for the mouth. Drinking water can reduce bad breath as you rinse away food particles in between your routine brushing.
How to treat it: Always keep a re-usable water bottle with you and aim to drink two litres per day.

3. You have a low carb-diet: Cutting down on carbs and upping your protein intake can lead to bad breath. This is because when the body is primarily running on fat stores, your body breaks down fat for energy, creating ‘ketones’. One of these is ‘acetone’ which can make your breath have a ‘sweet fruity’ smell or be strong enough to smell like ‘nail varnish remover’.
How to treat it: Seek guidance from your GP.

4. You’re diabetic: When a person has diabetes, their body either doesn’t make enough insulin or cannot use insulin effectively. Usually, insulin breaks down glucose to provide energy. If the body cannot get its energy from glucose, it starts burning fat for fuel instead producing ‘ketones’. As the ketones build up, they increase the acidity of the blood, which can be toxic.
How to treat it: Seek guidance from your GP.

5. You’re on medication
There are an array of medications that can cause a dry mouth, which consequently contributes to bad breath. These include blood pressure medications, antidepressants, sleeping tablets, diuretics and antihistamines. Check your medication leaflet to see if ‘dry mouth’ is a side effect or consult with your GP. You may need to increase your water intake to combat dry mouth.
How to treat it: Stay hydrated and see your GP.

6. You love coffee: Coffee has a very strong odour that smells worse than it tastes but it is the caffeine in coffee that can dry out your mouth. This decrease in saliva allows bacteria to thrive inside your mouth. The bacteria then clings to your tongue, gums, teeth and the inside of your cheeks, which can lead to bad breath. It is also possible that if you have dairy milk in your coffee the problem may worsen, as dairy milk encourages bacteria growth.
How to treat it: Opt for tea or drink water after coffee and use sugar free mints or gum.

7. You snore: Everyone knows about morning breath, but do you know why it happens?
When we go to sleep, our saliva production decreases, thus causing dry mouth and therefore bad breath. If you snore or have sleep apnea, you may have severe drying of the mouth because of breathing through the mouth and not the nose. This way of breathing speeds up the drying process resulting in bad breath in the morning.
How to treat it: Seek guidance from your GP

8. You skip meals: Fasting, or even just simply not eating regularly, can have a negative impact on the freshness of your breath. A lack of food and fluid slows down saliva production, and this lack of moisture can contribute to bacterial growth in the mouth.
How to treat it: Stay hydrated.

9. You smoke: Tobacco causes its own type of bad breath in addition to staining, loss of taste and gum irritation. People who smoke are more likely to suffer from gum disease and have a greater risk of developing cancer. Gum disease is one of the leading causes of bad breath, as outlined above.
How to treat it: Quit! Check out my tips on how to stop for good.

10. You’re stressed at work: There is a link between stress and gum disease, which can influence bad breath. Stress can also cause you to have a poor or irregular oral hygiene routine, as well as a dry mouth due to dehydration and breathing through the mouth. In stressful times, you may be too busy to eat, drink or breathe normally.
How to treat it: Stay hydrated and practice stress management techniques

11. You drink alcohol: Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it dehydrates you and dries out your mouth. A reduction in saliva production limits the ability for your mouth to self-clean, ultimately causing bacteria to thrive. Alcohol can also trigger acid reflux, which causes stomach acid to creep up into the throat, and that acid has an odour. Find out what other effects alcohol has on your teeth.
How to treat it: Try not to exceed the weekly amount of recommended alcohol units, which is 14.

Anna Middleton
Dental Hygienist & Therapist

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