We are all familiar with the smell of rotting garbage. If you’ve ever been stuck in traffic on a hot day behind a fully-loaded sanitation truck, you know how the scent tends to stick. Although odor coming from a truck that’s hauling garbage makes sense, a rotting odor coming from an individual’s mouth is far from one that’s acceptable.
Halitosis (Latin for “bad breath”) is caused by odor-producing bacteria that grow in the mouth. Without a proper oral hygiene routine at home, bacteria thrive on the food particles left in your mouth and those caught between teeth.
‘Rot’ occurs because of a breakdown caused by bacteria. Consider that bacteria thrive in warm, dark, moist places. Sound familiar? That’s precisely the environment they have in the oral cavity – the mouth. The faster bacteria reproduce, the faster is the damage potential caused by these destructive organisms. The accumulation of these bacteria results in the production and release of volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs), which causes a smelly breath odor.
The most common causes of bad breath include poor oral hygiene, gum diseases and dry mouth, a condition in which the salivary glands cannot make enough saliva to keep the mouth moist.
Saliva is the mouth’s support system in moving bacteria out so their reproduction does not run rampant. However, not brushing or flossing simply adds to the feeding frenzy of these organisms. As they lavish in a warm, moist and dark environment, their numbers can easily increase beyond what saliva can manage.
Smoking is a major culprit in causing dry mouth, as are consumption of alcohol and caffeine. There are also a number of medications that are drying to the mouth, both prescription and over-the-counter types. These include decongestants, antihistamines, diuretics and meds that treat depression and high blood pressure.
Some medical conditions can make icky breath more likely, too. For example, people who suffer with tonsillitis, sinusitis and acid reflux are more susceptible to bad breath. Other conditions such as a lung infection or abscess along with diseases that affect the liver or kidneys are known to cause bad breath. Certain gastrointestinal diseases and uncontrolled diabetes may be responsible for bad breath as well.
Brushing teeth twice a day should be a standard part of any day-to-day routine. This assumes that the tooth brushing technique is done properly, however. Simply swiping over tooth surfaces a couple of times a day is not going to thoroughly remove the bacteria that form plaque, which is the initial stage of an oral bacterial onslaught.
Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on your teeth. After a meal or snack (especially those that contains sugar), the bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel. Eventually, the acid is able to demineralize (or break down) tooth enamel, leading to cavities.
Plaque that isn’t removed can also harden into tartar. This hardened form of bacteria makes it more challenging to keep teeth clean. Tartar buildup on gums leads to inflammation that causes gum disease. To understand the association between gum disease and bad breath, think of bacteria causing a process that rots the gum tissues. No wonder bad breath is a symptom of gum disease!
Too much bacteria in the mouth can be “felt” by running the tongue over tooth surfaces at the end of the day. That sticky film you feel is plaque. An overload of bacteria can also be “seen” by looking at the surface of the tongue.
The tiny bumps on the tongue’s surface are known as papillae. When a build up of bacteria and dead cells become embedded in these tiny bumps, it can result in a white coating. Most tongues are lighter in color towards the back of the mouth, since bacteria are harder to remove in this area.
Healthy gums fit snugly around the base of teeth and are a light pink color. Although the initial stage of gum disease (gingivitis) may exist without obvious symptoms, common signs of gum disease include:
• Swollen or puffy gums
• Bright red or purplish gums
• Gums that feel tender or bleed easily
• Spitting out blood when brushing or flossing
• Frequent or persistent bad breath
• Pus pockets between some teeth and gums
• Loose teeth or a change in the way teeth fit
• Painful chewing
• Gums that pull away from teeth or are sensitive to heat and/or cold
Periodontitis, an advanced stage of gum disease, is the nation’s leading cause of tooth loss. Too, the bacteria of periodontitis can enter the bloodstream through diseased gum tissues. It can trigger inflammatory reactions that have been associated with serious health conditions. Periodontitis is linked with stroke, arthritis, coronary artery disease and problems controlling blood sugar in diabetes.
Avoiding bad breath is actually easy, takes just minutes a day and costs pennies. Tips to have a healthier mouth and fresher breath are:
– Brush at least twice a day for at least two minutes each time, using a fluoridated toothpaste.
– Avoid tobacco smoking and chewing tobacco-based products.
– Rinse and gargle with an alcohol-free mouthwash before bed.
– If you have dry mouth, drink plenty of water throughout the day and use moisturizing rinses, sprays, or dry mouth moisturizing gels.
– Visit your dentist regularly. Your 6-month dental hygiene visits are periodic opportunities to remove built up tartar. These cleanings help your at-home oral hygiene regimen more effective in controlling bacteria.
If you’ve delayed or avoided having regular dental visits, we encourage you to begin with a free consultation appointment. In our Shelby Twp dental office, we make patient comfort a priority and treat each patient with respect and compassion. To schedule, call 586-739-2155 or tap here. We are always happy to welcome new patients!