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Detect Bad Breath (Halitosis)

12 Nov, 2015

Detect Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Are you reluctant to open your mouth when your dentist or dental hygienist approaches? Such fears are no doubt fueled by the inescapable ads for breath mints, sprays, washes, and pills. But while chronic halitosis, the medical name for true bad breath, is not entirely a myth, it's much less common than the ads or surveys suggest. When it is present, it's almost always due to problems in the mouth that can be readily remedied.
Certain bad breaths are common, but they're generally mild and temporary. Many foods can taint your breath immediately after a meal. Two of the main offenders, garlic and onion, can actually stay on your breath for 24 hours or more. That's because the active chemical travels through the digestive system to the blood, to the lungs, and back out through the mouth. Even when rubbed on the skin, the odor of garlic eventually finds its way to the breath. Smoking and drinking, of course, also leave their distinctive mark on the breath.
If eating and drinking too much of some things are bad for your breath, eating too little can at times be no better. Dieters may develop the mildly unpleasant "hunger breath" when certain metabolic wastes reach the lungs. (A well-timed snack curbs hunger breath, but at some cost to the diet, of course.)
Then there's "morning breath." While you sleep, your tongue moves less and secretion of saliva slows almost to a standstill. Dead cells that are continually shed from the tissues lining your mouth are no longer rubbed off, washed away, and swallowed. The normal bacteria in the mouth break down those dead cells, releasing malodorous by-products. But the odor disappears as soon as you brush and floss your teeth, or even when you have something to eat or drink.
Problems involving the teeth, gums, and tongue are the main cause of true halitosis. Without scrupulous oral hygiene, the teeth become coated with bacterial plaque, which can eventually give rise to gum disease as well as tooth decay. And badly decayed teeth smell pretty bad. But even relatively mild gum disease can generate unpleasant odors, as plaque and its hardened form, tartar, create pockets that collect pus. For that matter, rotting food that's impacted around faulty fillings or just between the teeth can also create a stink.
Recent research shows that heavy bacterial plaques can also form on the back of the tongue. Because of its large, rough surface area, the tongue readily retains the bacteria, along with shed cells and even food debris. And the tongue bacteria are mostly the type than can easily putrefy those accumulations, generating a variety of sulfur compounds and other odoriferous compounds.
If gum disease threatens your teeth and causes bad breathe, you should seek professional care. But you can help prevent gum disease by keeping your mouth clean. That means brushing twice a day, flossing once, and getting regular professional cleanings.
You can also keep your tongue clean by brushing it gently once a day with a soft wet brush after you brush your teeth, or by periodically scraping the rear portion with a bent spoon. (You can even buy a specially designed tongue-scraper in a drugstore.)
If those measures are inadequate, you can add a potent mouthwash. So far, two types of products have substantial scientific evidence to back them up: Listerine and a prescription rinse available as Peridex and PerioGard. At least one small clinical trial suggests that mouth rinses containing the germicide chlorine dioxide - including Oxyfresh, Retardex, and other products, often sold directly through dentists - may also be helpful.
If there's nothing wrong in your mouth, you may be one of the few people whose halitosis actually signals a medical problem. Most often, it's a local infection of the respiratory tract (the nose, throat, windpipe, and lungs), such as chronic sinusitis or bronchitis. Other possible medical causes include diabetes, kidney and liver disease, gastrointestinal problems, and rare metabolic disorders. Finally, halitosis can also result from anything that dries the mouth - fever, medications, salivary-gland disorders, or just breathing through your mouth.
But don't let all this give you the wrong impression. Bad breath requiring the attention of a dentist or physician is relatively uncommon. There's even evidence suggesting that as many as one in four people who believe they have chronic bad breath actually suffer from halitosis phobia. They'll often remain convinced of their offense despite objective evidence to the contrary.
Still, if you're concerned about your breath, ask a professional for an honest appraisal. Your best friend may not tell you, as the old commercial warned, but your dentist or doctor will.

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