Treating and preventing bad breath - Just the facts.
Curing your halitosis might be much simpler than you expect.
Research has shown that most cases of bad breath (over of 85%) can be directly attributed to factors originating in a person's mouth. Once a person understands this fact and a few basic details associated with it, the treatment, as well as the prevention, of their breath malodor problem can become a pretty straightforward affair.
A) Bad breath is caused by oral bacteria.
Every human mouth harbors a number of different types of bacteria. One of these is the "anaerobic" bacteria. The term anaerobic refers to the fact that these bacteria prefer to live in environments that are devoid of oxygen.
Due to this characteristic anaerobic bacteria are typically found in the greatest numbers in the hidden recesses of the mouth such as the deep grooves of the tongue, the spaces between teeth, and those spaces (pockets) that lie between teeth and their surrounding gum tissue. They are also typically found in thick debris films such as the one that often covers the posterior portion of a person's tongue.
B) Breath malodor is due to the presence of volatile sulfur compounds (VSC's).
When the anaerobic bacteria that live in our mouth consume and digest their meals (which includes food particles and debris leftover from the meals that we have consumed) they, in turn, create foul smelling byproducts called volatile sulfur compounds (VSC's). When we exhale these VSC's (some of which are the very same compounds that are responsible for the smell of sweaty feet, decaying meat and rotten eggs) they become incorporated into our breath and taint its quality.
C) What's the treatment for bad breath?
Just knowing the few facts mentioned above should make it obvious as to which approaches are best for treating bad breath. And in reality, for most people armed with these facts, the treatment of their halitosis should be a fairly straightforward affair and one that can be mounted on a few different fronts. The remainder of this page lists the typical solutions dental professionals use when treating their patient's breath problems.
1) Tongue cleaning.
Treatment rationale: The first step every person should always take when making an attempt to improve the quality of their breath is to initiate proper tongue cleaning. Large numbers of anaerobic bacteria (the type of bacteria that produce the VCS's that cause bad breath) typically reside on the back-most portion of the topside of a breath sufferer's tongue. If these bacteria are removed, or at least a significant number of them, a person will experience an improvement in the quality of their breath. In many instances the initiation of an effective tongue-cleaning regimen will be the only treatment that is needed.
A person can clean their tongue by either brushing or scraping its top, rear-most surface. We discuss tongue cleaning and its importance in treating bad breath in greater detail on our "Tongue Cleaning" page.
2) Allow your dentist to perform a dental cleaning and periodontal health evaluation.
Treatment rationale: The bacteria that cause bad breath can also be harbored in the spaces (pockets) that lie between the teeth and gums. These recesses can be difficult to access and adequately cleanse, especially in those cases where debris (tartar) has formed in them. Allowing your dentist to perform routine dental cleanings on the periodic basis that they recommend can be vitally important in maintaining the health of these regions and minimizing the number of bacteria that find refuge in them. It also provides your dentist with an opportunity to evaluate the overall health of your gums (periodontal health) and to determine if it is possible that gum disease and the bacteria that cause it play a significant role in the creation of your breath malodor. You can find more information about the link between periodontal disease (gum disease) and bad breath on this page.
3) Minimize the food supply available to oral anaerobic bacteria.
Treatment rationale: The smelly volatile sulfur compounds that are the cause of bad breath are actually the metabolites that are produced by anaerobic bacteria as they digest proteins. This fact would suggest that by reducing the amount of protein-rich food remnants that are available to these bacteria a person could improve the quality of their breath.
A person could choose to limit their intake of protein-rich foods and this might help to alleviate their breath problems but, of course, the need to maintain a healthy diet is important. A better focus would be to take those steps that help to insure more effective oral cleansing (brushing, flossing, tongue scraping and rinsing) is performed, especially after eating meals or snacks that are rich in protein. I also might be prudent to avoid protein-rich foods during those time periods when thorough oral cleaning will not be a possibility.
4) Keep your mouth well hydrated.
Treatment rationale: Maintaining adequate oral moisture can play a valuable role in treating halitosis. It can serve to wash away the bacteria that cause bad breath, minimize the amount of food that is available to them as well as dilute and wash away the smelly VCS's that they produce. Evidence that an absence of oral moisture can play a role in causing bad breath is easy to find. "morning breath" is caused by the dry-mouth conditions that exist due to the reduction in salivary flow that takes place when we sleep. People who give lectures or have reason to talk at length may notice that the quality of their breath becomes offensive after extended periods of speaking due to the drying effect it has on their mouth.
Maintaining proper oral moisture should be accomplished using a number of different methods. A person should drink plenty of water each day. This will obviously provide an immediate benefit but doing so will also help to insure adequate body hydration so proper salivary output is produced. Rinsing with water often will help to hydrate oral tissues as well as dislodge, dilute and remove bacteria, food debris and VSC's. Oral moisture can also be maximized by stimulating salivary flow by way of chewing on an item such as sugar-free chewing gum or a sugar-free mint.
5) Use a mouthwash.
Treatment rationale: Mouthwashes that have antibacterial properties or else the capability to neutralize volatile sulfur compounds (VSC's) can contribute to the treatment of bad breath. A mouth rinse on its own, however, cannot be expected to be an effective treatment for halitosis. Any mouthwash must be utilized in conjunction with a regimen of improved tongue cleaning, tooth brushing and flossing. Our Mouth Wash page discusses specific types of mouth rinses that can be used to treat halitosis in greater detail.