Bad breath? Why the cause might be more serious than too much booze this Christmas


Although we might not be getting quite as up close and personal to many other people this season, there’s little worse than coming face to face with bad breath – whether it’s our own or smelling somebody else’s!

Most of the time, bad breath – also known as halitosis – is the result of poor oral hygiene. When bacteria linger in the mouth, toxins produce odorous gases.

Persistent bad breath can also be a sign of gum disease or the result of excessive drinking and smoking – this time of the year we are all prone.

But bad breath usually indicates that there is something we could be doing better regarding our oral health regime.

Research shows a worrying 42% of us use only a toothbrush and toothpaste for our oral care – while one in four of us admit we don’t even brush our teeth twice a day!

The people at P&G, who are behind the oral health brand, Oral-B, discovered that those of us in the UK and US, people brush on average for 47 seconds, pressing up to five times too hard, according to extensive research by dental care leader P&G, creators of Oral-B. And 60 per cent of people neglect their molars. “Good brushing technique is something dentists find hard to teach,” says Adam Boulding, a biochemist and toothbrush expert at Oral-B.

But what about the surfaces of our teeth we can’t see? Interdental cleaning between our teeth is vital – and particularly important in tackling bad breath.

Bacteria break down any food trapped on or in between our teeth and release gases – so removing this with small interdental brushes is an effective fix. Brushing only cleans around 60% of the tooth’s surface – which shows just how important reaching those nooks and crannies can be to our oral health.

Cleaning our tongue is another step most of us seemingly skip during our oral health regime. Tongue scraping dates back many centuries but few of us bother.

In the United States, it is factored into the oral hygiene appointment and is regularly marketed as a solution for those patients with halitosis concerns.

Indeed, it is estimated that approximately 85% of all halitosis cases have their origin within the mouth, with 50% being caused by tongue residues, so tongue scraping is key to keeping that bad breath at bay.

Investing in a good electric toothbrush can also make cleaning more effective. Toothbrushes should be replaced every three to four months (or after any bout of illness) and should have soft synthetic bristles.

Another step towards fresher breath is cutting down – or quitting – drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco. When we consume alcohol, it dehydrates us and leads to a reduction in saliva production. Another top tip is chewing sugarfree gum after eating foods and drinking coffee as it can stimulate the flow of saliva and clear away food particles.

Cutting down on sugary foods and drink is another solution. Acidic products create the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply. Munching on raw vegetables also helps to stimulate saliva production and scrape away plaque on teeth. Believe it or not, aromatic spices also act as a great cure.

An annual check up with the dentist really is important – and an appointment with the hygienist equally so. Not only will she help reduce the chances of halitosis, but you’ll also leave the surgery feeling like you’ve been given a new set of sparkly, clean teeth.

But sometimes, bad breath can go beyond oral hygiene. Gastrointestinal problems, such as a pylori infection, can also be a cause and treatment will depend on what time of condition you have. Your dentist will be able to advise.

But, ordinarily, by sticking to our regular and effective oral hygiene habits, swapping fizzy drinks for water and adopting a healthier and more balanced diet, we can all be one step closer to waving goodbye to bad breath forever.

And, next time you think about cutting short your morning brush, remember you may be paving the way for halitosis hell!
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This article was updated on the 3rd December 2020.

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