Some of my patients don’t know that they have bad breath, but others are painfully aware and mortified by the condition. Naturally, the question which arises most frequently in that context is what causes bad breath? A number of factors contribute to the condition, and it’s not necessarily what you eat (although a late-night kebab never helps – for reasons which I’ll explain below). Let me take you through the most frequent causes.
Dry mouth, and other factors
If your mouth is dry, there will be an increase in acid and a decrease in oxygen. The quality of the saliva will suffer and lead to an increase in oral-bacterial activity, leading to bad breath. There is extensive list of factors that can lead to dehydration or dry mouth and hence bad breath including:
- Rigorous exercise,
- Chewing gum after meals can assist with this, because it stimulates the production of saliva.
Many other factors will influence the state of your breath including dieting (which can give rise to so called “hunger breath”) and dairy products. Garlic and onions will automatically create bad breathe, because they already contain mercaptan, which is one of the gasses associated with bad breath. Similarly, sugar can lead to problematic breath because it will feed oral bacteria.
Symptoms of bad breath
Obviously, if you detect a foul taste or odour or someone else brings it to your attention – for example, someone says your breath smells like eggs, visit your dentist. Other symptoms that may giveaway bad breath, even if you can’t smell it yourself, include a coating on your tongue or metallic taste in your mouth.
Oral health issues
The primary cause of bad breath is plaque. Plaque is a film of bacteria on your teeth, which releases a gas called hydrogen sulphide. Lifestyle elements will add to that layer of film and make it worse. For instance, if you smoke or drink a lot of coffee or wine it will add to that layer of bacteria and create a pretty distinctive and pungent smell – a lot like bad eggs.
Another common cause of bad breath is gum related. If your gums are diseased, a condition which is called periodontitis, they will release a gas called methyl mercaptan. The bacteria involved in gum disease creates a chemical reaction when it comes into contact with oxygen, which releases the methyl mercaptan. Sadly, this gas is even more pungent and smells like faeces!
Sinus and throat issues
Sinus and throat conditions, like sinusitis or post-nasal drip, can lead to bad breath. When patients have these conditions, a gas called dimethyl sulphide is released in the back of the throat, of which only the sufferer will be aware. It can’t be detected by other people without
specialised equipment. In fact, the term for this type of bad breath used to be halitophobia, which means a fear of bad breath, because physicians and dentists were unable to detect it, leading them to the conclusion that the poor patient was delusional!