What's causing your bad breath?

To mark the launch of National Smile Month, which runs from 16 May to 16 June, we take a look at something that can really affect people’s confidence and potentially stop them smiling…

Bad breath – otherwise known as halitosis – is very common and affects most of us at some point in our lives. We recently surveyed over 5,000 UK adults with YouGov and discovered that almost half of adults (49%) said they worry about having bad breath*. It can occur for a variety of reasons and is often easily sorted, so it’s important to try and pinpoint what’s causing your bad breath to find the right solution for you.

We asked our Chief Dental Officer, Henry Clover, what causes bad breath and what you can do to prevent it.

Stay hydrated

“Staying hydrated is important as a dry mouth and lack of saliva can cause bad breath,” advises Henry. “When you have low levels of saliva, bacteria in the mouth can grow more easily and release odours. This is why you often notice bad breath first thing in the morning because you produce less saliva when you sleep. A dry mouth can be caused by not drinking enough fluids, but can also be caused by certain medications and medical conditions. It’s important to drink plenty of good hydrating fluids such as water, and avoid high levels of caffeine and alcohol which can increase dehydration.”

Bad breath

Bad breath can occur for a variety of reasons

Watch what you eat and drink 

“Avoid strong-smelling food to help to keep your breath fresh,” advises Henry. “These include onions, garlic, and spices, and drinks such as coffee and alcohol. It’s also worth noting that crash-diets, not eating enough, and low carbohydrate diets can cause bad breath because your body starts to break down body fat to feed itself, which produces chemicals called ketones that can be smelt on your breath.”

Oral health and bad breath

“First and foremost, your current oral health has a huge impact upon the freshness of your mouth,” says Henry. “Bacteria can build up in your mouth and release unpleasant gases, so make sure that you’re removing plaque - the white sticky deposit that collects on your teeth - by brushing your teeth for two minutes, twice a day. Bacteria can also lurk on the surface of your tongue, so it may benefit from a quick brush too. 

“Brushing alone only reaches around 70 percent of tooth surfaces, so make sure you’re cleaning between your teeth every day to remove plaque and food particles stuck between your teeth, as these will start to smell as they break down. Our research with YouGov revealed that over a third of adults (35%) said they never floss, and only 22 percent of people said they floss at least once a day, so this is something we all need to be working on! Find what works best for you and take guidance from your dental team – this could be floss, interdental brushes or even electric water or air flossers, and ensure you’re cleaning between your teeth at least once a day.
 
“If you smoke, this can have a huge effect on the freshness of your breath too, as well as your oral health. Smoking stays on your breath a long time as well as your hair and clothes. It also increases your risk of gum disease, which is another potential cause of bad breath, not to mention the significant general health risks of tobacco.”  

Gum disease and bad breath

“Gum disease and other infections in the mouth can cause very bad breath,” says Henry. “The mildest form of gum disease is known as gingivitis, which is fairly common and easier to reverse in its early stages with a good brushing and flossing routine, as well as regular dental appointments. Common symptoms include gum swelling, bleeding and soreness. You may also find you have bad breath and an unpleasant taste in your mouth from the odours released from the bacterial infection. 

“If gingivitis is not effectively treated, it can eventually lead onto the more serious stage known as periodontitis. This affects the whole supporting structure of teeth including gums, ligaments and jaw bone, and can lead to tooth loss. The infection in the gums can become so severe that it causes the gum tissue to detach from the tooth, which creates a pocket. This further compounds the problem, as more and more bacteria and food particles get trapped in the pockets, leading to advanced infection and bad odours. This is why patients with periodontitis often have very bad breath.”

Can chewing gum can help bad breath?

“Sugar-free chewing gum and sugar-free mints can help stimulate saliva flow production and freshen breath,” says Henry. “However, if you have advanced dental problems such as periodontitis, they will only mask the issue temporarily, so it’s important to treat the underlying causes of your bad breath.”


* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 5,152 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 11th - 20th January 2016.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Published: May 13th, 2016 

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