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By Stephen R. John, DDS and Cheryl Calmis, RDH, BS
Is there an embarrassing stench lurking behind your mask? Do your family members and housemates start inching away whenever you speak? Let’s face it: Having halitosis, better known as “bad breath,” can really stink. But as embarrassing and off-putting as foul-smelling breath can be, it’s also quite common. Studies show that a majority of adults either have bad breath themselves or know someone who does.
Plenty of things can lead to stinky breath, from chronic dry mouth to copious amounts of garlic. But the condition is often linked to poor removal of dental plaque. Plaque bacteria are microscopic organisms that live on and between the teeth, as well as on the surface of the tongue. These bacteria digest food particles and residual sugars in the mouth, then they release foul-smelling gases.
If that all sounds a bit gross, it’s nothing compared to another common cause of bad breath: Rotting food between the teeth. Most people hear this and think “Yuck! That will never happen to me.” But you would be surprised how many times a patient walks into our office completely unaware that they have old food impacted between their teeth. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it is one more reason why good oral hygiene between the teeth is so important.
It’s worth noting that bad breath and bleeding gums are one of the early signs of gums disease. The infected gums produce a metallic taste and very nasty smell. There are also conditions unrelated to the oral cavity that can result in bad breath, including gastric reflux, or GERD, and ulcerations in the throat.
Ready to give bad breath the slip? Prevention starts with good habits: brushing with toothpaste at least twice a day and cleaning the spaces between your teeth daily. Eating healthy foods such as carrots, apples, and celery can also help. These fruits and veggies require extra chewing, which stimulates saliva production and helps wash away food particles. Chewing sugar-free gum or mints can also help increase saliva flow, making it a great stop-gap measure until you can find time to brush and floss.
As for that yucky impacted food? There are plenty of devices designed to remove plaque bacteria and food particles between the teeth, including dental floss, toothpicks, interdental brushes, and water picks. People constantly ask us, “Which tool should I use?” The simple answer: All of them! A dental professional can help you decide which device or combination of devices is best for you.
Regular oral checkups and cleanings are also an important part of preventing bad breath, so see your dentist at least twice a year. If you’re concerned about the source of your bad breath, your dentist and dental hygienist should be able to detect and treat any gum problems before they become more serious. They can also advise you to see a doctor if they suspect your bad breath may be due to an underlying medical condition.
Stephen R. John, DDS is a practicing periodontist with over 34 years’ experience at his dental office in San Mateo, California. He is a member of the American Academy of Periodontology, the California Society of Periodontists, the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, the Academy of Laser Dentistry, and several other associations. Dr. John is also a fellow of the Pierre Fauchard Academy, the World Clinical Laser Institute, and the Academy of Dentistry International.
Cheryl Calmis, RDH, BS is a practicing dental hygienist with more than 20 years’ experience in periodontics with Stephen John, DDS. She received her BS degree in dental hygiene from UC San Francisco and a BS in biology from San Jose State University. She is a Dimensions of Dental Hygiene Brand Ambassador and has written dental-related articles for DoctorBase.