There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t dread having smelly breath–especially when we’re in close proximity to others. But one of the biggest problems with this beauty blunder is that it isn’t always possible to sense when we’re the ones making everyone else cover their noses and turn away. That’s right: you can have bad breath and never even know it.
With that frightening thought in mind, we got to the bottom of smelly breath and found out everything you need to know about its causes and solutions so that you can minimize your chances of having to deal with it.
What Causes Bad Breath?
There isn’t one single culprit when it comes to bad breath, though it should be fairly easy to narrow down the causes to one of the following six reasons, according to Dr. Gregory Cumberford, a dentist and volunteer on The Alex Dental Health Bus for children.
1. Not brushing your teeth properly and/or neglecting to clean your tongue. “Think about all the bacteria you remove with your toothbrush,” Cumberford says. “That same bacteria is on your tongue as well. That is why it is recommended to use a tongue scraper to gently move away the plaque and bacteria on one’s tongue as well.”
2. Missing your professional dental hygiene appointments. It’s important to keep at least two dental appointments per year in order to check for cavities and potential gum problems and allow a professional to remove plague from hard-to-reach areas. “Dental plaque builds up over time and takes in the minerals from saliva,” Cumberford says.”These minerals help harden the plaque, and that is what dentists call calculus. This dental calculus is hard like stone and only a dental hygienist or dentist can remove the calculus with special dental instruments. That is one of the many reasons why it is recommended to see your dentist twice a year for your checkup and dental cleaning.”
3. Eating certain foods. As some foods digest in your stomach, they can cause bad breath. Count garlic, onions, some vegetables, and spices in this category.
4. Diabetes and metabolic disorders. Both diabetes and certain metabolic disorders can cause foul breath. Another offender: food that gets trapped in the pharyngeal folds (back of your throat).
5. An addiction to cigarettes. There are a million reasons why you should quit smoking–here’s one more. Cumberford says it contributes to bad breath in two ways: the smell from the smoke doesn’t exactly leave you smelling like a rose and smoking decreases saliva in the mouth, making one’s breath smell.
6. A mouth infection. Anything from an abscessing tooth to a mouth sore can cause bad breath–yet another reason why you should visit your dentist twice a year for a check-up and thorough cleaning.
How Can You Tell If You Have Bad Breath?
Contrary to what some of us have been led to believe, you can’t simply blow into your hands in order to determine whether you have bad breath. Dr. Daniel S. Rubinshtein offers a better solution: “A way to determine bad breath is to lick the back of your hand and wait 20-30 seconds until it dries out followed by smelling it,” Rubinshtein says. “Another way is to discretely blow your breath to a friend.”
How Can You Treat Bad Breath?
Now that you know what causes bad breath, the most important question of all is, how can you ensure it never, ever happens to you? Simple solutions like mints and mouthwash will only temporarily mask the problem, Rubinshtein says. “In order to treat bad breath you must focus on the source, whether it is gum disease or tooth decay,” he says. “Allow a dentist to determine the next step to maintain fresh breath. Another way to ensure fresh breath throughout the day: you must brush your teeth, your tongue, floss and rinse twice a day.” And, if you’re really concerned, Rubinshtein even suggests asking your dentist to familiarize you with a halometer, in order to detect halitosis. “There is even laser therapy that can remove a large portion of the bad bacteria on your tongue that is causing the bad breath.”
One last tip? “Take probiotics to balance out healthy bacteria, removing the smell,” Rubinshtein says.