Bad Breath Explained and Tamed

Ninety percent of people between the ages of 16 and 40 feel that having bad breath is “the worst social mistake one can make,” according to a recent study. So what causes this embarrassing condition and what can you do about it?


Bad breath is caused by the excretion of the anaerobic bacteria that live within your mouth. These anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that do not need oxygen to survive) excrete sulfur compounds. These sulfur compounds ignite the bad-breath brushfire. The rotten egg smell (hydrogen sulfide) and the barnyard smell (methyl mercaptan) are known as VSCs  – volatile sulfur compounds. The key word here is volatile.


Some people have worse breath than others. Even the most diligent VSC-fighter could still possess bad breath. That’s because, for reasons that have never been figured out, some of us are just blessed with the ability to produce fewer anaerobic bacteria than others.


How do you know if you have bad breath? Some indicators that you’re likely to send people reeling when you whisper in their ears include sleeping with your mouth open, snoring, smoking, consuming alcohol and taking certain prescription medications and antihistamines. All of these factors decrease the amount of saliva in your mouth. Saliva contains oxygen, which keeps your mouth healthy and fresh. A white-coated tongue is also an indication that you may have bad breath. That white coating is comprised of sulfur compounds that have risen to the tongue’s surface and cause bad breath. Old, worn dental work has a rough surface that also provides a space for bacteria to colonize.


Keep in mind that you breathe what you eat. High-protein foods, coffee, onions, garlic, sugar, acidic foods and drinks, and dairy products all worsen your breath. Gastric reflux also results in bad breath; ask your doctor about prescribing a medication to get this condition under control.


Still wondering if you have bad breath? Take a minute to conduct this bad breath self-awareness test:

  • Wipe the surface of your mouth with a piece of cotton gauze. Smell the gauze. If you notice a yellowish stain on the cotton, that’s a sign that you have an elevated sulfide production level.
  • Lick the back of your hand. Let it dry for about 10 seconds, then smell. If you notice an odor, you have a breath disorder, because the sulfur salts from your tongue have been transferred to your hand.

You can take control of your breath. Here’s how:

  • Have your teeth professionally cleaned at least three times a year.
  • Floss every day.
  • Brush at least twice a day.
  • Brush and scrape your tongue frequently.
  • Try an antibacterial gel.
  • Use an alcohol-free mouthwash once a day.
  • Use antibacterial sprays. They’re also a quick way to give your mouth a clean sweep. Stick one in your purse or leave by the front door so you’ll get into the habit of using it right before you leave the house.
  • Drink water frequently, both to keep lingering food particles from sticking, as well as to fend off dry mouth.
  • Eat right. Choose less acidic food and balance the pH levels in your mouth.                

Bad breath does not have to ruin your social life. Take control with your newfound awareness, and you can feel confident in taking your best breath forward.


Added to Anatomy, Symptom Definition, Oral Health on Tue 10/11/2011