Bad Breath? The Real Reason Your Breath Smells

Kristine Burke, MD
April 4, 2016

Does my breath smell? It's a question you've probably worried about on more than one occasion, especially before a meeting, special event, or right before you leaned in for a kiss.

You worry because you know what a complete turn off it is when you get even the slightest whiff of someone else’s rancid breath.

Sometimes the culprit is simply a cup of coffee, a spicy meal, or a cocktail. For a small percentage of people, the reason their breath smells is because of an infection or a medical condition.

Yet if you're constantly brushing your teeth, gargling with mouthwash, and popping breath mints to no avail, the problem could be a warning sign of something much more serious.

Your bad breath could be gum disease in disguise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about 9 percent of people reported bad breath - or what's known clinically as halitosis - in the last 6 months.

Yet those statistics are probably underestimating the much higher percentage of people who have chronic bad breath.

Let's face it, bad breath isn’t usually something people talk about with their dentists or physicians. I'm sure it's not something you're talking about either unless your doctor brings it up.

Gum disease = bad breath

If the millions of bacteria that live below your gum line, in between your teeth and on the back of your tongue are not removed throughout the day, they just sit there and rot. The result? A toxic smell that won’t go away no matter what you do.

What's more, when you’re not going to the dentist regularly, plaque and tartar stick around (no pun intended) and the problem just gets worse and worse over time.

How do I banish bad breath?

The good news is that once you figure out the source of your chronic bad breath you can cure it for good.

So make an appointment with your dentist today to find out if you have gum disease or if you’re at risk. Puffy, red, tender, or bleeding gums are early warning signs of gum disease, so that may clue you in. Your dentist can also make sure you're getting all of the sneaky spots bacteria like to hide in and show you how to effectively remove them.

Here are some other ways:

  • Brush at least twice twice a day for two minutes or ideally after every meal.
  • Floss in between teeth and below the gum line at least once a day.
  • Run a tongue scraper as far back on your tongue as you can handle without gagging to remove the bacteria.
  • Gargle with an alcohol-free mouthwash 15 minutes after you brush for the most effectiveness.
  • Drink lots of water throughout the day to increase saliva which also prevents bad breath.
  • Eat fiber-rich fruits and vegetables like apples, raw carrots, broccoli, and celery to clean teeth.
  • Drink green and black tea because they’re rich in polyphenols and prevent the growth of bacteria.

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