Halitosis is commonly known as an ‘unpleasant odour emitted from the mouth. In other words, it is bad breath – the oral health ailment that although is not obvious, has an impact on our friendships and relationships.
Halitosis comes from the Latin word ‘halitus‘ – meaning breathed air and ‘osis‘ meaning ‘pathologic alteration’ (a change in the body). It is a prevalent complaint that dentists and hygienists hear. This may sound awful, but bad breath is mostly caused by ‘putrefying bacteria’ found around the tongue area. If you’ve ever suffered from bad breath, you would know that the social and psychosocial effects of halitosis could have a significant impact on you, the sufferer.
Many people suffer from personal discomfort and social embarrassment from bad breath.
What can be awkward is when someone has bad breath and is unaware of it. It can cause people to be isolated from the community as people may avoid getting ‘too close’. In extreme situations, it can affect work productivity. I’m sure we have all been close to someone who has bad breath, and the thought of telling them is uncomfortable, as we don’t want to embarrass the individual. It’s tough to ignore.
Genuine halitosis comes in 2 forms – physiological halitosis and pathological halitosis. Physiological halitosis is described as a malodour through bacteria putrefying around the underside of the tongue. Pathological halitosis generally comes because of oral disease (gum disease).
Causes of Bad Breath/ Halitosis?
Having a dry mouth can exacerbate bad breath. A dry mouth can occur if you live or work in rural areas or farms, for example. Dehydration in our mouths happens because of the type of work we are doing or from not having easy access to water to replenish ourselves.
Some ailments, just as certain medications can cause our mouths to dry up and thus cause bad breath. Your hygienist or dentist will be able to help you uncover this through careful diagnosis and consultation.
Smoking has also been linked to bad breath. It is associated with ‘High Volatile Sulfur Compounds’ (VSCs) in the gums, which harms them. This could stem from the balance of the microbial population being altered by the VSCs.
Dietary habits can also cause bad breath. Intense flavours such as garlic, onions, and some spices can cause an unpleasant odour for people. Depending on your interpretation of ‘bad breath’, you may not notice it if you are used to these smells in your daily life. Others around you might.
Studies also show that those who drink excessive amounts of alcohol develop a unique type of breath that might result from oxidation of alcohol in the mouth and liver. Excessive alcohol consumption can also cause ‘dry mouth’, which also exacerbates decay and bacteria growth in the mouth and teeth.
You may notice that your tongue is rough – an excellent place for bacteria to grow rapidly. Did you know that up to 100 bacteria could live on one cell at the back of your tongue? What a thought!
Studies have shown that having gum disease can increase the chances of bad breath due to the bacteria surrounding the teeth and gums. Having gaps between your teeth and gums creates a pocket where food and debris can gather and if not washed away, will rot and decay.
Having good oral hygiene habits such as daily flossing and brushing can help. However, nothing beats having your hygienist remove the bits that you can’t.
What else may cause halitosis?
Having abscesses, decay, or orthodontic appliances can all cause bad breath. Anywhere you are unable to reach to clean, is a place where bacteria will stay, breed, and possibly cause rotting (disease) of the gums and teeth. We say ‘possibly’, because some people, no matter how little they brush or floss, never seem to get decay or gum disease, but these are rare. Unfortunately, most of us must ensure healthy gums and teeth to avoid the risk of halitosis and risk social embarrassment and personal discomfort.
With all that being said, the question you might be asking is:
What Is the Treatment for Bad Breath?
It’s actually quite easy! As part of our training, we, your dentists or hygienists can treat halitosis. We would rather keep gums and teeth bacteria-free than to try to save teeth and gums from the disease caused by the bacteria. We would also rather you keep your teeth whole than to have to remove decay and failing teeth due to disease.
Reduce the risk of experiencing the awkward ailment of bad breath by ensuring your teeth are plaque-free. Regular polishing of the tooth surface also reduces the ability for bacteria to stick to the tooth as they ‘slip off’ easily when flossing and brushing. Restorations (fillings) must have a nice smooth transition to your tooth structure as well as prevention of tooth decay among other things.
Wow, it is that easy! So next time your dental clinic calls to remind you that you are due for your ‘hygiene visit’, don’t roll your eyes and give an excuse as to how busy you are. Think about the bacteria sitting on your tongue, your teeth, your gums and be grateful they called!
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