Bad breath. Oral malodor. Death breath. Call it what you will, but there’s no denying that halitosis is unpleasant and even embarrassing. Dr. Jeffrey Leibowitz, a general dentist who treats bad breath in Astoria, NY, has good news for anyone who has ever felt self-conscious or anxious about their breath. First, you aren’t alone. Nearly everyone experiences halitosis at least once in his life, and it’s estimated that Americans spend about $500 million per year to treat the problem. Second, addressing the issue is often as simple as scheduling an appointment with your dentist.
Common Causes of Bad Breath
Most people see bad breath as a tell-tale sign of having eaten something particularly pungent, such as garlic or onions. It’s true that your most recent meal can cause unpleasant breath, but sometimes the problem isn’t what you’ve just eaten. Instead, it’s more likely a matter of something you’ve eaten hours or even days ago. When food particles and bacteria are not removed by brushing, flossing, and rinsing your mouth, they mix together to form plaque. Plaque can cover your teeth and tongue, hiding in small crevices, between teeth, and accumulating near the gum line. These bacteria produce odoriferous sulfur compounds, hence the bad breath. Over time, plaque contributes to periodontal disease, an infection of the gums that causes a distinctive odor and unpleasant taste that doesn’t go away with brushing or flossing.
Not all causes of halitosis are hygiene-related. Excessive tobacco and alcohol use contributes to bad breath by increasing the risk of developing gum disease. Smoking in particular has a characteristic odor that lingers in the mouth. Neglecting to clean your removable dentures, or wearing dentures that do not fit properly, can cause your breath to smell unpleasant. Fungal and yeast infections affecting the mouth have also been known to cause halitosis.
People who experience chronic dry mouth are susceptible to bad breath. Saliva, which neutralizes acids and rinses away leftover food, also serves to remove dead cells from the surfaces of your gums, inner cheeks, and tongue. Left in the mouth, the cells break down and emit an unpleasant odor. Several factors contribute to dry mouth, including taking certain medications, breathing through one’s mouth, and problems affecting the salivary glands.
In an estimated 10 percent of patients, bad breath stems from health conditions not directly related to the mouth. These include illnesses and afflictions ranging from respiratory infections, diabetes, reflux, and diseases of the kidneys and liver. Metabolic disorders and certain cancers have also been linked to oral side effects. Interestingly, not all unusual breath odor is necessarily unpleasant. For example, a diabetic who has poorly controlled glucose levels may experience fruity breath, a result of chemicals called ketones.
Don’t Hide Halitosis–Treat It
It’s tempting to rely on short-term fixes for unpleasant breath, employing an arsenal of breath sprays, mints, gum, and breath strips that dissolve in the mouth. While these products may temporarily mask oral malodor, they offer no long-term solution to the underlying problem. What few realize is that many of these products contain sugar and alcohol, two ingredients that have been known to wreak havoc on teeth and gums by fueling bacterial growth. It’s acceptable to use these products occasionally as needed, says Dr. Leibowitz, but the need to use them frequently may suggest an underlying issue. Always opt for products that replace sugar with xylitol, a sweetener that’s been shown to help reduce your risk of developing cavities.
In addition to visiting your dentist for cleaning and checkups, and in conjunction with a diligent oral hygiene regimen, you can take several steps to prevent this undesirable condition:
- Use a tongue scraper to remove odor-causing bacteria from the surface and folds of your tongue.
- If you have dry mouth, chew sugar-free gum to stimulate your salivary glands.
- Drink plenty of water to keep your mouth hydrated.
- Decrease consumption of caffeinated beverages, including coffee, tea, and soda
- If you are unable to brush and floss after eating, rinse your mouth with water. You might also consider stashing disposable flossers and single-use toothbrushes, such as Colgate Wisps, in your purse, desk, or vehicle.
Good riddance to bad breath. To learn more about professional teeth cleaning, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Jeffrey Leibowitz, contact us at 718-728-8320. Dr. Leibowitz, who offers cosmetic, restorative, and preventive dentistry with an emphasis on personalized treatment, welcomes patients living in and around Astoria, Queens, NYC, upstate New York, and New Jersey.