I remember a high school teacher who was known for his breath odor. Away from him, he was referred to as “Mr. Fog” because students joked that you could actually see his bad breath whenever he opened his mouth. As an adult, I realize that’s not a kind label. As a dentist, I understand why the problem can easily exist as well as how to prevent it.
For most individuals, unpleasant breath odor occurs for one reason: oral bacteria overload. You see, when the mouth houses high bacteria levels, their presence can literally reek. As an illustration, imagine hosting a dinner party for 10 people, yet 110 show up. While the 10 were invited guests, the additional 100 are neither respectful or considerate of you, your home, or others.
These extras in your home are eating everything they can find. They are clogging up toilets, damaging furniture and carpet, and ignoring trash cans. After hours of this, your home starts to smell. Suddenly, you realize there are not just 110 people, there are 220! They’ve quickly reproduced, creating an even worse houseful of destructive, eating, waste-producing intruders.
Essentially, this nightmarish scenario is what takes place in your mouth when bacteria are not removed on a regular basis. The reason you are urged to brush twice a day is to lighten the load of bacteria in your mouth; helping you to keep bacteria levels under control (like scaling back down to the 10 guests who were invited into your home).
Oral bacteria, like any bacteria in our bodies, are eating, reproducing, and defecating organisms. These functions are all taking place in our mouths. And, they reproduce very quickly. While saliva flow is designed to help rinse bacteria from the mouth, they can quickly become destructive when their numbers exceed saliva’s capabilities.
Brushing is an important part of removing bacteria from tooth surfaces, and recommended twice a day for a good reason. As mentioned prior, oral bacteria reproduce very quickly – so quickly you can actually feel it. Try this: Brush thoroughly in the morning and run your tongue over your teeth after rinsing. They should feel slick and clean. Then, before brushing prior to bedtime, run your tongue over your teeth. You probably feel a film coating the teeth.
This film is actually a sticky coating of oral bacteria. And, it’s coating more than just your teeth. This film, known as plaque, is coating your tongue and gum tissues, even the roof of your mouth.
Oral moisture is often overlooked as a necessary part of a healthy mouth. ‘Dry mouth’ is a term that describes insufficient saliva flow and is a contributing factor in developing bad breath, gum tenderness, bleeding gums, and gum recession. Unfortunately, so much dry mouth problems exist today because of the medications we take.
An often-overlooked side effect of many medications prescribed today is dry mouth. Everything from antidepressants to anti-histamines to blood pressure medications can cause dry mouth. The aging process is also a reason for oral dryness. And, since people tend to take more medications as they age, older adults tend to have the most challenges in this area.
A dry mouth is an ideal breeding ground for oral bacteria. Since it is not being moved out of the mouth through saliva flow, brushing is needed to help control bacteria levels. When an individual fails to brush at least twice a day or isn’t thorough when brushing (at least 2 minutes per brushing), oral bacteria levels simply continue to build.
What we eat and drink can also cause dry mouth. For example, caffeine is a drying agent to the mouth. Drinking coffee, tea, or colas can challenge oral moisture levels. Drinking alcohol also has a drying effect on oral tissues. And, smoking is one of the most drying of all to oral tissues.
A major source of oral bacteria is the tongue. While tooth brushing may be done diligently, the tongue harbors hoards of oral bacteria in its tiny grooves. This is why many toothbrushes are now made with a ridged section on the back side of the bristles, meant as a tongue scraper. You can use this or simply brush your tongue with your toothbrush bristles after tooth brushing. There are also tongue scrapers available that are easy to use and effectively dislodge bacteria. Just be sure to reach towards the back of the tongue where most bacteria tend to be embedded.
Of course, there are medical reasons for bad breath that are unrelated to oral hygiene regimens. For people who have chronic sinus infections, acid reflux (GERD), and oral ulcers from radiation treatment, breath odor can change regardless of the time spent at the sink.
A healthy smile is one that looks good and feels good! Your smile should have you feeling confident, even in close situations. If you are concerned that your breath is “bad,” then it probably is. The first step in resolving this worry is to evaluate your oral hygiene routine at home. Do you brush at least twice a day, for at least two minutes per brushing? Do you floss daily to remove food particles caught between teeth that a toothbrush can’t dislodge? Do you have dental cleanings every 6 months to remove hardened plaque (known as calculus or tartar) on teeth?
You may want to consider a couple of effective aids in minimizing oral bacteria. We recommend the Oral B electric toothbrush as well as electronic water flossers for people who find flossing difficult or uncomfortable. While these devices help, it is necessary to use them as instructed by their manuals. Once you’ve made the investment, this will help you reap the true benefits and experience improved oral health as a result.
Be sure you drink lots of water throughout the day. If you prefer to flavor your water, use cucumber or strawberry slices or add some fresh mint leaves. Be sure to swish water in the mouth after drinking coffee, tea, cola, and certainly after smoking. If you take medications that are drying to the mouth, consider using an oral rinse specifically formulated to replenish oral moisture. And never use products in the mouth that contain alcohol, which is a drying agent to oral tissues.
An appealing smile begins with a healthy foundation. Your gums should be a healthy pink color without areas that are tender or swollen. And, it is a myth that seeing blood in the sink means you’re doing a good job when brushing. You should never see blood! This is a symptom of gum disease.
Be committed to keeping a healthy mouth so you can enjoy fresh breath as well as a reduced risk of cavities, gum disease, and serious health problems elsewhere in the body. Yes, that’s right – oral bacteria can travel beyond the mouth and cause inflammatory reactions that have been associated with some serious health conditions. These include heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, preterm babies, some cancers, arthritis, diabetes, and impotency.
Begin with a thorough dental exam and cleaning. Or, call 586-739-2155 (or tap here) to schedule a free consultation appointment. During this time, I’ll discuss ways we can help you enjoy a worry-free smile that also supports good overall health. If dental fear has kept you from regular care, we can also discuss the many comfort options available, including oral or I.V. sedation (twilight sleep).
Call 586-739-2155 to rid yourself of bad breath worries! Except right after that onion-covered hot dog! You’re on your own, there! :-).