The holiday hugging season brings us close to our loved ones, and everyone needs to be on mistletoe alert! Make sure that your breath is fresh and sweet as you smile your way through the season.
Chronic halitosis, or bad breath, affects more than 80 million people. In most cases it originates from the gums and tongue, caused by wastes from bacteria in the mouth, the decay of food particles, other debris in your mouth and poor oral hygiene. A sulfur compound produced by the decay causes the unpleasant odor.
What’s the most likely culprit? Bad breath is primarily caused by poor oral hygiene but can also be caused by retained food particles or gum disease. Bad breath also may occur in people who have a medical infection, diabetes, kidney failure, a liver malfunction or are undergoing radiation for cancer. Xerostomia (dry mouth) and tobacco also cause bad breath. Stress, dieting, snoring, age and hormonal changes can also have an effect on your breath. “Bad breath” is a generally accepted term for foul smells emanating from the mouth. “Oral malodor” is a term reserved for unpleasant smells originating from the oral cavity. Odor emanating from the back of the tongue may indicate postnasal drip, where mucus is secreted from the nose and moves down your throat. When it sticks to the tongue it causes an odor. No matter where it starts, it stinks!
Saliva is key in the fight against bad breath, keeping the odor under control because it helps wash away food particles and bacteria. During sleep, salivary glands slow down the production of saliva, allowing the bacteria to grow. To help “morning mouth,” brush your teeth and eat a morning meal. Morning mouth also is associated with hunger or fasting. Those who skip breakfast, beware, because the odor may reappear even if you've brushed your teeth.
What about smelly foods? Very spicy foods like onions and garlic, and coffee may be detected on a person's breath for up to 72 hours after digestion. Onions are absorbed by the stomach, and the odor is then excreted through the lungs. Studies even have shown that garlic rubbed on the soles of the feet can show up on the breath.
For clean breath, it’s important to practice good oral hygiene such as brushing and flossing your teeth at least twice a day. Proper technique includes brushing the tongue, cheeks and the roof of the mouth to remove bacteria and food particles. Flossing removes accumulated bacteria, plaque and food that may be trapped between teeth. Clean your tongue with your toothbrush or a tongue scraper, a plastic tool that scrapes away bacteria. For those with dentures or a removable appliance, such as a retainer or mouth guard, clean the appliance thoroughly before placing it back in your mouth. Before you use mouth rinses, deodorizing sprays or tablets, talk with your dentist. These products only mask the odor temporarily and some products work better than others.
Regular dental check-ups will help detect any physical problems and can also get rid of the plaque and bacteria that build up on your teeth. If you think that you suffer from bad breath, your dentist can help determine its source.
Traveling to Grandma’s for the holidays? Travelers need extra precautions to keep breath fresh. When the salivary glands slow down the production of saliva, it leads to bacteria and odor. Many travelers alter their food intake while at the airport and on the plane, increasing fast food and soda, and ignore their oral hygiene routine. Skipping meals during travel may bring morning mouth at any time. Another condition, less common than bad breath, is known as "tooth squeeze" (barodontalgia), which describes a toothache or dental pain resulting from any change in barometric pressure during flight. The pain from abscesses, cavities or fillings may become more severe as altitude is increased, but descent almost invariably brings relief. Consult your dentist if you experience travel toothache.
Trading smelly breath for a smaller size? With the low-carbohydrate diet trend, many are saying goodbye to carbs and hello to halitosis. The diet works by limiting the amount of carbohydrates ingested, which allows the body to burn stored fat instead of carbohydrates. Fat is burned for fuel, and smelly chemicals called ketones are produced and released in the breath and urine. Ketones are one diet culprit; certain foods are another. High-protein foods can produce more sulfur compounds, especially overnight when saliva production is diminished.
What can you do? Drink plenty of water to wash away germs and particles, and dilute the concentration of ketones. Chew sugarless gum with xylitol to increase saliva production to neutralize acid and loosen food particles from the mouth. Chewing parsley also increases saliva production. Xylitol is a natural sweetener found in plants and fruits, and research shows it inhibits the growth of Streptococcus mutans, the oral bacteria that cause cavities.
Keep a toothbrush handy and brush after all meals, and floss at least twice a day. Cleaning the tongue with a toothbrush or tongue scraper after meals can also help alleviate odors.
If halitosis continues, your dentist or doctor may look for other causes, or may refer you to your family physician or a specialist to help remedy the cause of the problem. A fruity ketone breath can be a sign of diabetes, when the body is burning fat due to insufficient glucose, and should be brought to the attention of your doctor.
We’ll all be celebrating the holidays with sweet, rich foods and toasting with a plethora of beverages. Being vigilant with oral hygiene at home and carrying a spare toothbrush to freshen up between parties will have you ready for those hugs and mistletoe. As for the calories from holiday feasting, you’re on your own!