As a dental hygienist with over 20 years in the business, I get this question probably more than any other, “What is causing my bad breath ”? I’d love to provide a quick answer to this, however it’s complicated, and usually requires some investigation to nail down the true cause. Therefore, in the name of brevity, I will break this down into two parts. Part one being the most common causes, and part two being the lesser causes.
The number one cause of bad breath is gum disease.
This can be a minor case of gingivitis or a more aggressive form of gum disease called periodontitis. Both conditions are caused by an overgrowth of, and incomplete removal of oral bacteria. This is usually triggered by one or more of the following, poor brushing, poor dental work, tooth decay or bacteria accumulation on the tongue. If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, are red and puffy, or if you notice that flossing generates a foul odor, then poor oral hygiene is probably the culprit. Therefore, learn the BASS method of brushing, and start flossing at least three times per week. Listerine would be a good addition as well, but only use once a day as it can dry out your mouth, which is a lesser cause of bad breath
The number two cause of bad breath is sinus drainage. Where I live in Texas, sinus infections are seasonal events, and usually occur in late fall and early spring. This can cause post nasal drip that contributes to bad breath. A good home test to perform is from a sitting position, hang your head down toward your knees. If you notice pressure in your sinus cavity, this could be the cause of your bad breath. Sinus and allergy medications can usually help with this.
The number three cause of bad breath is acid reflux. In this case the odor is not coming from your mouth or sinus cavity but from your gut. If you are prone to have what I call “spooky burps” where a small amount of something spooky comes up when you burp, this can cause bad breath. Proton pump inhibitors like Nexium and Prilosec are used to control this reflux action. However, make sure you are properly evaluated by a doctor; acid reflux can become a serious condition if left unchecked.
Now on to the lesser causes of bad breath.
There are literally hundreds of medications with this side effect. The reduced saliva flow caused by these medications changes the normal bacteria balance in your mouth allowing the bad odor causing bacteria to thrive. Short of a medication change there’s not a whole lot you can do other than utilize a saliva substitute.
This one goes without saying. If you smoke, you are doing some serious damage to your body so please try to quit. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Smoking dry’s out the mouth which changes the bacterial balance, not to mention leaving your kisser smelling like an ashtray.
High Protein – Low Carb Diets
Carbs have gotten a bad rap lately, but they are needed. If the body doesn’t get enough carbs it can trigger changes to your body’s metabolism which can lead to bad breath. High protein foods are more difficult to digest and may release sulfur gases due to the longer metabolism time. Remember, fruits are carbs too. If you’re into low carb, you can still stay away from the processed carbohydrates like wheat and corn, but try to consume healthy carbs like oranges or apples to balance all the protein.
Whoever came up with processed sugar should have their ass kicked. I honestly can’t think of one good thing that comes from this product. In addition to contributing to obesity and diabetes, it can also trigger bad breath. Your naturally occurring oral bacteria feeds on these sugars creating foul smells as a byproduct of sugar metabolism. If you need sugar use natural honey or sugar in the raw, (turbino).
Alcohol acts like the previously listed medications, in that it can cause dry mouth. Alcohol in excess can reduce saliva production allowing bad bacteria to flourish. An excess of alcohol would be more than two servings per day.
Individuals who have chronic tonsillitis or tonsil inflammation are at risk for developing tonsil stones. The symptoms of tonsil stones include bad breath, a sore throat and difficulty swallowing or feeling that there is a foreign object in the back of the throat. The stones are formed from calcified materials such as dead cells, bacteria and mucous that become trapped around the tonsils. The stones are mainly composed of calcium, but other minerals may be present as well. Tonsil stones are generally not harmful. They look like a small white ball, and smell awful.
This is not a complete list of the causes of bad breath, but it represents the most common.
However as previously stated the most common is poor oral hygiene. Therefor If you think you fit into the poor oral hygiene category then you should perform the following.
1. Learn the Bass method of tooth brushing. This ensures that you will be brushing 45 degrees into the gum line where all those nasty little critters camp out and keep the fires of inflammation burning. If you need help with this tooth brushing method go to Amazon and purchase the MD Brush. It’s designed for the Bass method and breaks the cycle of poor tooth brushing. However, be prepared; if you’ve spent your entire life brushing on autopilot without any consideration to what you were physically doing, changing to the Bass method will be like driving on the left side of the road in Scotland for the very 1st time. Be patient, your teeth are worth it. Usually 2-3 days with the MD Brush is average to break the cycle and retrain the arm.
2. Floss – Yes, I know it sucks, and nobody does it but we’re preventing gingivitis, right? Personally, and professionally, I’m OK if you floss 3 times a week, BUT there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Simply popping the floss in between the teeth won’t cut the mustard or should I say goop. You must scrape the teeth, which means pulling or pushing against the teeth when the floss goes up and down in between the teeth. Oh, and those little wishbone thingies with the floss in-between; not a fan. I’ve still seen cases of gingivitis with them. If you’re going to take the time to floss, do it the right, and use the stuff that wraps around your digits. I like the GLIDE brand.
3. Lastly, right before you go to bed, (after you’ve brushed, and flossed) take a big ole slug of Listerine mouthwash, preferable the one with the alcohol; why, because it’s just more fun, and kills more bacteria. Swish around for 30 seconds and then brush your teeth…. again. Notice, I didn’t say spit the Listerine out. It will be like brushing your teeth with a mouthful of scotch, although not nearly as smooth or expensive depending on your palate. After the requisite 30 seconds, you may spit the Listerine out; but be advised, your first impulse will be to rinse away that toxic burning sensation; you don’t want to do that. Provided you don’t rinse, the residual Listerine will continue to kill bacteria for several hours providing a lasting effect that prevents the growth of new bacteria. Brushing with Listerine is different from rinsing, because it forces the gums to open up, allowing greater penetration below the gum line.
I only recommend using Listerine once a day. Like any alcohol, moderation is key.
If you think you have periodontal disease, notice pus, or have teeth that are loose; make an appointment with your dentist today. Periodontal disease is serious, and can put you at higher risk for heart disease and a few other nastie not to mention a full plate denture.
The MD Brush is available on Amazon
Watch this video to see how it works.
Written By Mike Davidson – Maverick Dental Hygienist and CEO