You Don’t Want Halitosis

Monday June 21, 2021

Bad breath is the breath that has an unpleasant odor. It’s also known as halitosis. This odor can occur from time to time, or it can be long-lasting, depending on the cause. 

Millions of bacteria live in the mouth, particularly on the back of the tongue. In many people, they are the primary causes of bad breath. The mouth’s warm, moist conditions are ideal for the growth of these bacteria. Most bad breath is caused b1y something in the mouth. 

Some types of bad breath are considered to be fairly normal. They usually are not health concerns. One example is “morning mouth.” This occurs because of changes in your mouth while you sleep. During the day, saliva washes away decaying food and odors. The body makes less saliva at night. Your mouth becomes dry, and dead cells stick to your tongue and to the inside of your cheeks. When bacteria use these cells for food, they produce a foul odor. 

In addition, bad breath can be caused by the following:

Poor dental hygiene – Infrequent or improper brushing and flossing, allows bits of food that are stuck between the teeth to decay inside the mouth. Poor oral hygiene eventually will lead to periodontal (gum) disease, which also can cause bad breath. 

Infections in the mouth – These can be caused by either a cavity in a tooth or by periodontal (gum) disease. 

Respiratory tract infections – Throat, sinus or lung infections. 

External source – Garlic, onions, coffee, tea, cigarette smoking, and chewing tobacco, all contribute to halitosis. 

Dry mouth (xerostomia) – This can be caused by salivary gland problems, medicines or “mouth breathing.” A large number of prescriptions and over the counter medicines cause dry mouth. Xerostomia is a major contributor to bad breath and advanced dental decay.

Illnesses – Diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, lung disease, sinus disease, reflux disease and others.

Bad breath caused by dental problems can be prevented easily with proper home and professional care. Your dentist will review your medical history for conditions that can cause bad breath and for medicines that can cause dry mouth. 

Your dentist may refer you to your family physician if an illness is the most likely cause. In severe cases of gum disease, your dentist may suggest that you see a periodontist (a dentist who specializes in gum problems). 

If the cause is systemic, you will need diagnostic tests to check for a lung infection, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease or Sjögren’s syndrome. The type of tests you get depends on the suspected illness. You may get blood tests, urine tests, X-rays of the chest or sinuses, or other tests. 

The treatment for bad breath depends on the cause. As with all medical issues, it is best to follow regular professional maintenance appointments.

One of the best things you can do daily is scrape your tongue with a… guessed it……tongue scraper. Brushing the tongue is not advised as this pushes bacteria further into the tongue. A tongue scraper is designed to pull and collect millions of bacteria that accumulate on the tongue. If you don’t have one, ask your dentist for one at your next appointment. 

Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. He has a special interest in treating sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at

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