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Beating bad breath
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The secrets of fresh breath

Not many people can claim they’ve never had bad breath at some point in their lives. But a couple of simple hygiene tips can help minimise the inconvenience caused by bad breath.

Fresh breath secrets
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Bad breath, also referred to as halitosis, is anything but a mysterious phenomenon. Its immediate cause has been identified as the presence of volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs), such as hydrogen sulphide and methyl mercaptan, which are responsible for the “rotten eggs” smell of some people’s breath.

A device called halimeter can be utilized to quantify these compounds, though its use is as of yet limited in everyday practice. In the meantime, keeping up good oral and dental hygiene will go a long way to ensuring your breath stays fresh.

Bacteria: the enemies of fresh breath

Nine times out of ten, the origin of bad breath is to be found inside the mouth. It is believed that bacteria accumulate in the V-shaped row of taste buds found at the extreme back of the tongue. These bacteria produce highly volatile sulphur compounds, which are released into the air upon exhalation.

The presence of these bacteria is part of the cause for bad morning breath. Due to saliva being less abundant during the night, bacteria tend to accumulate inside the mouth. Drinking and eating breakfast is generally enough to eliminate these bacteria as well as the foul odour they give off.

However, why some people produce more of these sulphur compounds than others remains to be understood. Poor gum condition, major tooth decay and bad tooth filling are all causes for bacterial and food debris accumulation. Thus, if you feel that your breath has suddenly changed for the worse, the first step is to go to your dentist to have your teeth and gums checked and if necessary have your cavities treated. They can also offer hygiene advice, especially if you have periodontitis, an inflammatory disease affecting gums and resulting in the formation of pockets between the teeth and gums, where food debris accumulates.  

There are other well-known causes of bad breath. Trimethylaminuria, a rare genetic disorder, has been recently found to be responsible for a fishy odour. Unfortunately, there is no efficient treatment against it. Some benign illnesses, such as ear, nose and throat infections, can also explain bad breath, but the latter is only temporary and disappears with the condition.

Permanent conditions responsible for chronic halitosis or bad breath, such as renal insufficiency are few and far between. Some people despair of having bad breath when it’s not actually the case, while others are totally unaware of their bad breath. To find out if you have bad breath, simple self-tests you can do. See Do you have bad breath?

Getting back to fresh breath

Quite often, bad breath develops with no precise reason, even in people with adequate dental hygiene. If this is your case, the best advice you can get is to improve your oral hygiene.

  • The least you can do is brushing your teeth after each meal, with the gums, insides of the cheeks and palate also being brushed in an effort to get rid of bacteria.
  • Floss your teeth after meals to eliminate food debris stuck in between the teeth.
  • It’s also recommended to clean your tongue, most importantly on its upper side where taste buds are the most present, in order to remove bacteria. You can use tongue scrapers, which are sold in pharmacies, or an inverted coffee spoon.
  • While gum, peppermints and sprays only produce a transient masking effect, gum does have the advantage of increasing saliva production, which is good as dry mouth raises risk of bad breath.
  • Some diseases and practices can diminish saliva production. This is the case of tobacco smoking and its distinctly nasty smell. In the event of insufficient saliva production, you need to make certain that you drink enough water and eat “rough” foods capable of sweeping debris off your tongue. 

Mouthwash can by no means replace oral hygiene procedures. Mouthwash containing essential oils (eucalyptus, mint for instance) only serves to mask unpleasant odour for a short time. Regular use of a strong antibacterial mouthwash with chlorhexidine should be avoided due to its side effects, including increased risk of oral cancer.

Posted 23.09.2011


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