Battling Bad Breath

As we approach Valentine’s Day, millions of men and women will choose not to celebrate this coveted romantic holiday because they suffer from “chronic halitosis,” otherwise known as bad breath. We have probably all been there at some point in our lives. We are on that oh-so-important date, only to discover - and feel - that our breath is bad.

Posted on | Jonathan B. Levine, DMD | Comments ()

As we approach Valentine’s Day, millions of men and women will choose not to celebrate this coveted romantic holiday because they suffer from “chronic halitosis,” otherwise known as bad breath.  We have probably all been there at some point in our lives.  We are on that oh-so-important date, only to discover - and feel - that our breath is bad. 

An estimated 65% of Americans, over 65 million people, suffer from this condition and at least 90 percent of all halitosis is of oral, not systemic origin.  But bad breath can be battled, and cured.  All it takes is eating the right food, and practicing the right oral care.

When Breath Goes Bad

 Nine times out of ten, bad breath is related to the condition of your mouth’s interior, specifically the type of bacteria that reside there.  Bacteria spend most of their time consuming foods and excreting wastes.  The wastes from some of those bacteria are sulfur compounds.  Sulfur compounds are what ignite the bad-breath brushfire.   The wastes that the bacteria in our mouth excrete are truly some of the most unattractive smells.  These volatile sulfur compounds evaporate instantly and that swiftness allows them to offend everyone around us the minute we open our mouths. Some liken the odors to rotten eggs and barnyards.

Additionally, oral bacteria also produce waste products in the mouth, causing nauseating smells.  Most of these compounds that cause bad breath are the waste products of anaerobic bacteria, which live under the gum without oxygen.  Our mouths experience an ongoing battle for dominance between anaerobic bacteria and aerobic bacteria.  It is the precise balance between these two types of bacteria that determines the quality of your breath.

A normal tongue is pink, textured, and slightly moist.  When you stick out your tongue, if you see a white coating - that is dead bacteria that create an oxygen free zone underneath where the bad breath causing bacteria can thrive.  Under this white coating, within the deep papillae of the tongue, the volatile sulfa compounds, which create the offensive odor, are produced.

You Breathe Out What You Eat

 Sometimes, your bad breath comes down to what you eat.  Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s not. 

  • High Protein Foods – Bacteria love glomming onto proteins, so high protein foods contribute generously to halitosis.  Top contenders are fish, red meat, and beans. So hold the protein, and swap out meat courses for vegetarian options a few times a week. 
  • Coffee: This one is obvious but important.  Coffee contains high levels of acid, and bacteria love acid as much as they love protein. 
  • Sugar: Sugar encourages bacteria to reproduce and create even more volatile sulfure compounds and can attract other bacteria.   
  • Acidic foods and drinks: Along with aiding bacteria reproduction, acids also create sour, bitter, and/or metallic tastes in the mouth.
  • Dairy products: Lactose intolerance causes more than stomach discomfort.  It means the inability to break down the lactose protein that’s in dairy foods.  This results in a buildup of amino acids, which easy convert into volatile sulfur compounds thanks to anaerobic bacteria in tongue.

Self Diagnosis – Do You Have Bad Breath?

Most who suffer from bad breath don’t even know it.  But if you might be concerned, here are two ways to self diagnose:

  • Wipe the surface of your mouth with a piece of cotton gauze and smell it.  This is probably the most honest way to judge.  Moreover, if you notice a yellowish stain on the cotton, that’s a likely sign that you have an elevated sulfide production level.
  • Lick the back of your hand.  Let it dry for about ten seconds, then smell.  If you notice an odor, you have a breath disorder, because the sulfure salts from your tongue have been transferred to your hand.
  • Smell Your Floss.  If your floss smells, you do indeed have bad breath.

Battle the Bad and Take Back Your Breath

Now you know the signs, symptoms, and causes of this embarrassing condition.  However, most importantly, you need to know how to battle your bad breath.  The most effective ways are:

  • 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 anti-bacterial gel.
  • Use an alcohol free mouthwash once a day.
  • Use anti-bacterial sprays.
  • Drink water frequently, both to keep lingering 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.

Ultimately, if you eat right and keep your mouth healthy, you will no longer have to worry about having the perfect Valentine kiss!

Blog written by Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
Dr. Jonathan B. Levine is a world-renowned dentist and prosthodontist recognized as an authority on restorative dentistry. He's...