We’ve all been there. You just enjoyed a delicious hamburger with extra onion and garlic fries. While it tasted great going down, you already regret your order. You still have the lingering taste of the burger and fries in your mouth — and not in a good way. You pop a mint, and the problem is solved. No big deal, right? Maybe, but maybe not.
A wide range of conditions cause bad breath, or halitosis, but generally speaking it’s the result of an abundance of normal bacteria in the mouth. This bacteria breaks down micronutrients and releases a byproduct that is, well, stinky.
Most of the time bad breath can be attributed to things we knowingly consume — heavily seasoned food, onion, garlic, coffee, or cigarettes. These are all relatively forgivable, short-term offenses, especially when covered up with gum or a mint. They are voluntary decisions. You know the action will result in bad breath, and you’ll try to limit social consequences. This kind of halitosis is temporary and harmless (unless it makes that cute girl at the bar shut you down). Chronic bad breath, on the other hand, can be more serious.
Unless you’re a nerd like me, you probably don’t care about the science behind why someone’s breath stinks, but you should.
About 99% of the time, chronic halitosis is the result of poor oral hygiene. However, 10% of the time it can be a symptom of more serious medical conditions such as liver disease, diabetes, or a lower respiratory tract infection like bronchitis.
Poor oral hygiene can also lead to some other serious problems. Recent studies by the American Society of Microbiology found a link between the type of bacteria in mouths and migraine headaches. This same type of bacteria has also been linked to higher levels of enzymes in the human body, which cause Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancers. Poor oral hygiene is also positively correlated with gum and mouth disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Basically, bad breath can equal bad health later on.
Next time you notice that your breath is less than presentable, remember that there is more to halitosis than just a bad smell.
So if you want to stay fresh, dentists suggest brushing your teeth and tongue twice daily for two to three minutes; flossing daily; and using an alcohol-free mouthwash (I’m a big believer of this mouthwash). Avoid drinking anything after you brush your teeth and try to limit your sugar consumption between brushing. If you use mints or gum during the day, opt for sugar-free versions. If your bad breath does not go away within a few weeks of improved oral hygiene, you should contact your primary care doctor and/or dentist.
By Dr. Mitch Reinholt with Ben Higgins
What’s your bad breath nightmare? Have you ended a date due to bad hygiene?