Causes of Bad Breath – And How to Get Rid of It

Tina McGroarty, CRNP, MSN

The fear is real. You’re deep in conversation with a friend when, out of nowhere, you’re slammed with an alarming odor. Was it your breath? Your train of thought veers and all you can think about is a quick exit and searching for gum…mouthwash…any remedy for bad breath.

Bad breath, or halitosis, is an issue we’ve all encountered at one time or another. Whether we’re the culprits or the victims, it’s a problem most hope to avoid. Thankfully, rather than doling out embarrassing apologies for foul-smelling breath, there are several ways to prevent and treat halitosis. Tina McGroarty, CRNP, MSN, a nurse practitioner from Penn Internal Medicine Westtown shares three tips to keep your mouth smelling fresh and clean.

Three Tips to Keeping Your Mouth Fresh and Clean

Limit potent foods

After eating a meal heavy with garlic, onion, or other flavorful—but stinky—ingredients, the food is digested and absorbed into your bloodstream, delivering nutrients throughout your body. Unfortunately, the stench of your tasty meal hitchhikes along for the ride, eventually arriving at your lungs, where it pollutes your breath. Since the odor lies in the lungs, the quick fixes for treating bad breath—brushing, flossing and rinsing with mouthwash—are only temporary solutions.

To save your breath, try to limit your intake of garlic, onions, some varieties of fish, and meaty meals. If you want to treat yourself but don’t want to deal with the repercussive stink, a glass of milk during or after a meal has been known to help deodorize breath.

Stay hydrated

Saliva plays an important role in oral hygiene. One of its main jobs is flushing your mouth of the tiny food particles that stick to your teeth and gums. Without some spittle, those food particles become a tasty treat for bacteria. As the bacteria snacks on the teeny pieces of food left behind, they grow in number and in stench. Gross!

The absence of saliva in the mouth is also referred to as “dry mouth.” Dry mouth has hundreds of causes, such as:

  • Some prescription medications
  • Dehydration
  • Disease and chronic illness
  • Consuming alcohol and caffeine

Lucky for us, dry mouth is easily prevented. Chewing on a piece of sugar-free gum may aid your saliva production and provide some minty freshness to your mouth. Another simple strategy is swapping that second cup of coffee or glass of wine with a refreshing glass of cold water. A simple glass of water can combat dry mouth by hydrating your body and flushing away pesky food particles and oral bacteria. If quick fixes aren’t enough, let your doctor know and he or she may be able to prescribe a more effective approach.

Your overall health (Schedule annual checkups)

Those of us with allergies or a cold, which can lead to post nasal drip, may notice our breath suffering along with our health. All that excess mucus is a feasting ground for bacteria, which creates an unpleasant scent.

Young woman with bad breath

In addition to acute ailments, chronic illness has been known to effect breath. Liver, gum, and kidney disease, along with many other conditions, may contribute to halitosis. Make sure you’re getting annual wellness check-ups to prevent and treat any underlying health issues. Once your general health improves, your breath will follow.

Tobacco products are also a sure way to infuse bad odor into a close conversation. Added to the natural stench cigarette smoke brings with it, smoking-related oral health problems can cause chronic and painful conditions such as gum disease and oral cancer.

With the various causes of halitosis, there remains the most crucial and well-known path to fresh breath: maintaining your oral hygiene. This means brushing at least twice a day and flossing regularly. For extra coverage, rinse with mouthwash and give a tongue scraper a try. Cleaning out any extra food debris and bacteria will do your hygiene and health a world of good. Here’s to clean, fresh and healthy breath!

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