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Halitosis (Bad Breath): The Causes and Treatment Options

Aug 17, 2007
Halitosis, also called bad breath, is as an offensive odor that emanates from the oral cavity. Also known as foetor oris, oral malodour, or simply bad breath, halitosis is a serious problem. As a chronic problem, it affects people's lives, their businesses, and their social activities. In rare cases, bad breath can be a sign of a serious general health problem, so it should not be ignored.

One unfortunate facet of bad breath is that you can rarely smell it yourself. Sometimes, a person's bad breath can blow you away and he or she may not realize there's a problem. Over 65 percents of Americans strongly believe they can smell their own bad breath, but this is a common misconception. It is almost impossible to smell your own bad breath. If you want to get rid of bad breath, find the cause instead of just masking the scent.

Here are a few methods to try that might reveal unpleasant breath odor:

* Pull your tongue forward with one hand, and with the other, wipe the back of your tongue for about 15 seconds with a clean cotton ball. Wait a few minutes and sniff the cotton ball; if it smells bad, this could mean you have bad breath.

* Floss a few of your back teeth with a piece of unflavored, unwaxed dental floss. Again, wait a few minutes and then sniff the floss. It's likely that this is what your breath smells like.

* Do you frequently have a bad taste in your mouth? If you do, that's a clue that you might have bad breath.

* Ask for a truthful answer from a trusted friend or family member.

Yes, the truth can be embarassing, but knowledge is power! Now you can do something about it! Unfortunately, none of these methods are foolproof. A visit to the dentist is the only way to find out definitively.

Microbiologists and scientists have found that bacteria make the main substance that causes bad breath. When the anaerobic (without oxygen) bacteria break down protein to digest they release a sulfurous compound as the waste product. This compound is what gives bad breath its distinctive rotten-egg bad smell.

The most common cause of halitosis or bad breath is poor dental hygiene. However, other local and systemic conditions can also cause bad breath. Poor oral hygiene, cavities, gum diseases, lung diseases, tongue infection, mouth ulcers and inflammation, sinus infection, diet routines, smoking, tobacco, reduced salivary glands and dry mouth are some examples of local disturbances that can cause bad breath. Drug-induced side effects, the respiratory tract infection, lung infection, gastrointestinal illnesses, diabetics, hormonal disturbances, liver or kidney ailments can also cause bad breath.

Although everyone gets bad breath sometimes, if you have bad breath a lot, you may need to visit your dentist. Whether or not your breath has an offensive odor, assessing the health of your gums, testing saliva levels, and even measuring the levels of volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) in your mouth with a device called a "halimeter" are some of the methods your dentist might use to assess your breath.

After telling your dentist about your concern, your dentist or periodontist can help you to find out the cause of your bad breath. Usually, your dentist can treat the cause of bad breath. In some other exceptional situations, the dentist can refer you to an appropriate medical specialist for evaluation and treatment.
About the Author
For more information, contact Dr. Nguyen at drnguyen@softdental.com or visit www.softdental.com.
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