If bad breath becomes more than an inconvenience, it may be time to visit your dentist

February 13, 2012

Everyone suffers occasionally from bad breath. Bad breath is most commonly caused by certain foods, tobacco or alcohol. However, if you suffer from persistent bad breath, it could be a sign of something more serious — and a reason to schedule an appointment with your dentist.

It is estimated that 50 percent of the population has halitosis, or bad breath, at any one time, and that one-half of this group has chronic bad breath.[1] Approximately 90 percent of bad breath is intraoral in origin — it stems from bacteria on the tongue, gums and teeth — while the other 10 percent can originate from other, more serious, sources.

"Chronic halitosis can be an indicator of gum disease or dry mouth," says Dr. Harry Höediono, President of the Ontario Dental Association. "See your dentist if you are concerned about your bad breath — he or she can determine the cause and provide treatment."


If your gums and teeth are healthy, your dentist may refer you to your family doctor or a specialist to determine the cause of bad breath. Bad breath may be a sign of a medical disorder, such as diabetes, respiratory tract infection, chronic sinusitis, postnasal drip, chronic bronchitis, gastrointestinal disturbances or liver or kidney ailments.

For most of us, bad breath is usually caused by the food we eat and how often we clean our teeth. Here are some tips to help keep your breath fresh.

  • Floss and brush your teeth, gums and tongue daily. If you don't clean your mouth, any remaining food particles will attract bacteria, which cause bad breath and contribute to tooth decay.
  • Brush and floss your teeth after eating, if you possibly can. If you can't do a thorough cleaning, drinking water or chewing sugar-free gum are good options.
  • Dry mouth (or xerostomia) decreases the flow of saliva. Saliva inhibits the growth of bacteria that contribute to bad breath by cleansing the mouth and removing odor-causing food particles. Dry mouth is caused by some medications, alcohol and breathing with your mouth open. Drink plenty of water or chew sugar-free gum or candy to keep your mouth moist.
  • Cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco can cause dry mouth and bad breath – on top of being harmful to your overall health. Ask your dentist for help with smoking cessation.

"Chronic bad breath is a very visible sign that something is not right; your dentist can help identify the cause," says Dr. Hoediono. "If it's due to an oral condition, we can develop a treatment plan to help eliminate it. You don't have to live with bad breath."

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[1] ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, "Oral malodor", Journal of the American Dental Association, Vol. 134, February 2003.


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