Q: I often seem to have noticeably bad breath — not just in the morning. How unusual is this problem?
A: Persistent bad breath, or halitosis, is a very common complaint that is thought to affect millions of people, including perhaps 25 to 50 percent of middle aged and older adults. It’s the driving force behind the market for breath mints and mouth rinses, with an estimated value of $3 billion annually. It’s also the third most frequent reason people give for seeing the dentist (after tooth decay and gum disease). So if you have bad breath, you’re hardly alone.
Q: Can bad breath come from somewhere other than the mouth?
A: Most of the time, bad breath does originate in the mouth; its characteristic smell is often caused by volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs), which have a foul odor. However, it can also come from the nose, possibly as a result of a sinus infection or a foreign body. In some cases, pus from the tonsils can cause halitosis. There are also a few diseases which sometimes give your breath an unpleasant odor.
Q: What exactly causes the mouth to smell bad?
A: In a word: bacteria. Millions of these microorganisms (some of which are harmful, and some helpful) coat the lining of the mouth and the tongue. They thrive on tiny food particles, remnants of dead skin cells, and other material. When they aren't kept under control with good oral hygiene — or when they begin multiplying in inaccessible areas, like the back of the tongue or under the gums — they may start releasing the smells of decaying matter.
Other issues can also contribute to a malodorous mouth. These include personal habits (such as tobacco and alcohol use), consumption of strong-smelling foods (onions and cheese, for example), and medical conditions, like persistent dry mouth (xerostomia).
Q: What can I do about my bad breath?
A: Those breath mints are really just a cover-up. Your best bet is to come in to the dental office for an examination. We have several ways of finding out exactly what’s causing your bad breath, and then treating it. Depending on what’s best for your individual situation, we may offer oral hygiene instruction, a professional cleaning, or treatment for gum disease or tooth decay. Bad breath can be an embarrassing problem — but we can help you breathe easier.