What does it take to cure bad breath?
Since bad breath is caused by the smelly waste products (volatile sulfur compounds) produced by anaerobic oral bacteria, curing it must involve steps targeted directly at curbing the number of them that live in your mouth.
You accomplish this by:
- Removing the types of environments in which these bacteria like to live.
- Making any location in which they do live less hospitable.
- Limiting the amount of food available to them.
As a secondary step, a person may choose to use products that can help to neutralize volatile sulfur compounds (VSC's).
A game plan for curing bad breath must include:
A) Effective mouth cleaning.
Research has shown that most cases of bad breath (over of 85%) can be directly attributed to factors originating in the person's mouth. Once this point is understood, it makes treating, as well as preventing, breath odors a pretty straightforward affair.
It's important to remove bacteria from below the gum line.
a) Tooth brushing and flossing.
The types of bacteria that cause bad breath live in the dental plaque that builds up on and around teeth both above, and especially below, the gum line (see illustration).
Removing this plaque removes a home for these bacteria. And the fewer of them that there are in your mouth, the fresher your breath will be.
Both brushing AND flossing is needed. It's not realistic to think that smells coming from around teeth can be controlled unless effective flossing is an integral part of the person's daily oral home care.
Nothing is more important than cleaning the back of your tongue.
b) Cleaning your tongue. (Nothing is more important.)
When it comes to curing bad breath, nothing is more important than cleaning your tongue, especially the back part.
Simply incorporating this step to a person's daily mouth-cleaning routine has cured more cases of bad breath than anything else. It's so important that we've dedicated an entire page to it.
c) Oral rinses.
You may choose to incorporate a mouthwash or rinse into your home-care routine. They often claim antibacterial or VSC-neutralizing properties. Our opinion would be, however, that these products should be considered to be only adjuncts rather than the primary method of controlling oral bacteria and their byproducts. Here's why.
Rinses typically have a tough time penetrating the full thickness of oral films and therefore it's difficult for them to provide an effective or complete benefit. (The bacteria living on or near a film's surface receive the treatment. Those living in its deepest recess may receive no effect at all.)
In comparison, the mechanical disruption/removal of oral films by brushing, flossing and tongue scraping is quite predictable and unquestionably effective.
B) Limiting the food supply for bacteria.
The volatile sulfur compounds that cause bad breath are the waste byproducts created by anaerobic oral bacteria as they digest proteins. That's why it's so important for a person to clean their mouth thoroughly after eating, and especially after consuming foods that have high protein content.
When we're finished eating, minute particles of food still remain in our mouth. A lot of this debris ends up in between our teeth and incorporated into the coating found on the back part of our tongue.
Since these are precisely the locations in which the bacteria that cause bad breath live, if a person doesn't clean their mouth promptly and thoroughly, food is provided for them over an extended period of time.
Dental cleanings remove debris you can't.
C) Making sure your mouth is healthy.
If your bad breath problem persists, even after a period of following all of the tips and suggestions we make on our pages, you should schedule an examination and cleaning appointment with your dentist so they can evaluate your situation.
During this visit, the following can be accomplished:
1) Effective brushing and flossing technique can be difficult to learn. Your dentist should be able to provide you with instructions, tips, and pointers that can help to improve your routine.
2) Dental calculus (tartar) accumulation can interfere with effective brushing and flossing as well as harbor bacteria. Your dental cleaning will remove this debris from your teeth, both above and below the gum line (see animation).
Plaque accumulation around teeth with gum disease.
3) A part of your dentist's examination will include a periodontal evaluation.
Periodontal disease (gum disease) can cause significant damage to your gums and the bone that surrounds them (gum recession and bone loss, see animation).
This damage can result in the creation of deep spaces between your teeth called "periodontal pockets." These pockets are often impossible for you to clean effectively (especially once tartar has formed in them) and therefore make an ideal environment for the bacteria that cause bad breath to live.
If a periodontal problem is found, your dentist can outline the treatment that will be needed to get your condition under control.
4) During your examination your dentist will check to see if there are any untreated dental conditions that could be causing or aggravating your breath problems.
5) Your dentist can determine if it's unlikely that oral conditions are the cause of your bad breath and that a referral to a doctor for a medical evaluation is indicated.
D) Keeping your mouth hydrated can help.
Oral moisture helps to wash away oral bacteria and wash out/dilute the smelly compounds they've created. (Having a chronically dry mouth is a risk factor for bad breath.) On a daily basis, here are some of the things you can do to keep your mouth moist.
a) Drink plenty of water.
If you allow yourself to become dehydrated, your body will attempt to conserve moisture by way of reducing its production of saliva. Saliva has a cleansing and diluting effect on the bacteria and bacterial waste products that cause bad breath.
b) Rinse your mouth with water throughout the day.
Rinsing frequently with water can help to control odors over the short-term by way of removing and diluting bacterial waste products. Doing so will also tend to dislodge and rinse away the bacteria themselves, as well as food debris that might otherwise have become a food source for them.
c) Stimulate your mouth's flow of saliva.
One way to stimulate salivary flow is to chew on something. Doing so will trick your body in to thinking that it is getting a meal. In preparation for digesting this meal, your body will increase its production of saliva. You might choose to chew on cloves, fennel seeds, or a piece of mint or parsley.
Chewing gum, or breath mints or lozenges, can also be used to stimulate salivary flow. If you elect to use one of these products, make sure it is sugar-free since sweets will promote the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay.
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