Dr Sahira Sandhu
What’s even more humiliating and socially unacceptable than the remains of a spinach salad speckled across a toothy grin? Yes, it’s bad breath. Bad breath also known as halitosis is a common problem that can cause significant psychological distress. Anyone can suffer from halitosis.
It is the third most common reason that people seek dental care, after tooth decay and gum disease. Often people who suffer from bad breath struggle to find answers for their symptoms. The biggest challenge to curing it is finding the underlying cause. While many causes are harmless, bad breath can sometimes be a sign of something more serious. Many people think that a mouthwash or a breath mint will cure the problem, which in reality is just a temporary solution.
The origins of bad breath are not mysterious: dental cavities, gum disease, failed dental work, leaking amalgam fillings, mouth breathing, poor oral hygiene, coated tongue ( a white or yellow coating on the tongue ) are among the most common.
Gut health is one of the most exciting areas of healthcare innovation. Researchers are now finding that nearly every chronic disease has a common source in digestive imbalance. Your mouth and gums are a living and accessible part of a healthy gut. Bad breath could be a sign that you suffer from conditions of the digestive tract.
Other causes may include malnutrition (fat breakdown gives your breath a fruity odour), uncontrolled diabetes, and dry mouth (saliva has an antimicrobial effect). Infections such as sore throat or sinusitis, or intestinal disorders, such as heartburn, ulcers, and lactose intolerance and some medications may also result in bad breath.
Large doses of vitamin supplements, alcoholism and objects stuck in the nose (usually in children) may also cause bad breath.
Did you know that the environment in your mouth (oral microbiome) has probiotic species that protect against diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease? There are also bugs that help to protect against imbalances that cause bad breath. Simple home remedies and lifestyle changes and improved dental hygiene can often remove the issue.
Ways to fix it
Hydrate: Drink plenty of water and swish cool water around in your mouth. This is especially helpful to freshen “morning breath.” Avoid alcohol and tobacco, both of which dehydrate the mouth. Chewing gum or sucking a sweet, preferably sugar-free, can help stimulate the production of saliva. If the mouth is chronically dry, a doctor may prescribe medication that stimulates the flow of saliva.
Dental hygiene: Brushing and flossing ensure the removal of small particles of food that can build up and slowly break down, producing odour. A film of bacteria called plaque builds up if brushing is not regular. This plaque can irritate the gums and cause inflammation between the teeth and gums called periodontitis. Dentures that are not cleaned regularly or properly can also harbour bacteria that cause halitosis.
Take care of your tongue: Don’t forget about your tongue when you’re taking care of your teeth. If you stick out your tongue and look way back, you’ll see a white or brown coating. That’s where most of bad breath bacteria can be found. Use a toothbrush or a tongue scraper to clear the coating.
Diet: Avoid onions, garlic and spicy food. Sugary foods are also linked to bad breath. Reduce coffee and alcohol consumption. Eating a breakfast that includes rough foods can help clean the back of the tongue.
Mouthwashes: Try a 30-second mouthwash rinse that is alcohol-free (unlike many off-the-shelf products). Mix a cup of water with a teaspoon of baking soda (which changes the PH level and fights odour in the mouth) and a few drops of antimicrobial peppermint essential oil. Don’t swallow it!
Crunch it: Raw crunchy foods such as celery, carrot and apple contain pectin, which help control food odour and promotes saliva production. Cinnamon is antimicrobial. Active cultures in yoghurt help reduce odour-causing bacteria in the mouth.
Natural remedies: Chew a handful of cloves, fennel seeds or aniseeds. Their antiseptic qualities help fight halitosis-causing bacteria. Chew a piece of lemon or orange rind for a mouth-freshening burst of flavour. (Wash the rind thoroughly first.) The citric acid will stimulate the salivary glands—and fight bad breath. Chew a fresh sprig of parsley, basil, mint or cilantro. The chlorophyll in these green plants neutralises odours.
Quit smoking: Giving up this dangerous habit is good for your body in many ways. Not only will you have better breath, you’ll have a better quality of life.
If breath odour persists despite controlling these factors, it is recommended that an individual visit a doctor for further tests to rule out other conditions.
(Dr Sandhu is a Chandigarh-based Prosthodontics)
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