Is bad breath a sign of illness?

Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is a treatable, common condition experienced by many adults. It may be caused by the foods you eat, or it may point to a deeper problem with dental health, or to an underlying medical issue. Most halitosis is a result of inadequate oral hygiene. If you don’t clean your teeth and mouth daily, a sticky plaque buildup can accumulate on your teeth. The uneven surfaces on your teeth, tongue, and tonsils can trap bacteria and food debris, and this will cause bad breath. Poor oral hygiene can also lead to other oral health conditions, like gum disease or cavities, and these are also associated with halitosis. Quite simply, maintaining a thorough, regular oral hygiene habit is the best way to defend against halitosis. Brush your teeth twice a day, and be sure to brush after eating pungent, odor-causing foods like garlic, onions, or certain spices, which can also cause bad breath. Coffee can be a particularly offensive enemy in the war against halitosis, due to its intense flavor and its negative effects on saliva production; a decrease in saliva leads to an increase in bacteria which cause odor.

Drinking alcohol can also lead to bad breath. The more frequently you drink alcohol, the more likely you are to have halitosis as a result. Especially when consumed in excess, alcohol causes a decrease in saliva, like coffee, which creates a rich environment to breed odor-causing bacteria. Alcohol is high in sugar, and diets that are high in sugar, independent from the sugars in alcohol, may also cause bad breath. The bacteria that naturally exist in your mouth feed on sugar; the more sugar you feed them, the more they proliferate and the more malodor they cause. Other dietary habits may also lead to bad breath. When a person adheres to an extreme diet and reduces or eliminates carbohydrates, this changes that person’s metabolism, which can lead to bad breath. Foods that are high in protein may also lead to bad breath, as they may be more difficult to digest and therefore more likely to release odorous gases while still in the body. Balancing a high-protein or low-carbohydrate diet with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs can help neutralize these offensive fumes.

Use of tobacco products, whether smoked, chewed, or dipped, causes bad breath and can also lead to much more significant health issues, oral and otherwise. In addition to the known carcinogens in tobacco products, using these products damages gum tissue and can cause gum disease, not to mention the direct negative effects they have on the breath. Tobacco use also causes dry mouth, which leads to bad breath. Saliva is an important element in the prevention of bad breath. Saliva cleans the mouth naturally by washing away food debris that can lead to bacterial growth and cause malodor. If your saliva production has slowed or ceased, you will likely have bad breath. This happens naturally while people are sleeping, which is why “morning breath” occurs. If the problem persists upon waking, you may have xerostomia, a condition that slows or stops the prevention of saliva, and it is a good idea to seek treatment. Other medical conditions that commonly lead to bad breath are poor digestion, bowel disorders, acid reflux, and constipation.

Several prescriptions medications list dry mouth as a possible side effect. When saliva production decreases and the mouth becomes excessively dry, odor-causing bacteria are allowed to thrive. Saliva naturally reduces the presence of these odor-causing bacteria by rinsing out the mouth; when there is too little saliva, there are too many bacteria. Any extended amount of time with a dry mouth can lead to bad breath. Some medications also release a foul odor to the breath, through the bloodstream, as they break down in the body. While most halitosis is a result of the buildup of oral bacteria, there are other health conditions that may contribute. Bad breath can indicate that disease or illness is present. Bad breath can be caused by tonsil infections, respiratory infections, postnasal drip and other sinus problems, issues with the liver or kidneys, diabetes, and certain blood disorders. In rare cases, bad breath may indicate the presence of cancer or other serious conditions, including metabolic disorders. Your dentist can assess the causes of your bad breath and refer you to a general practitioner or medical specialist if necessary, so see the dentist regularly for checkups and professional cleanings. Maintaining your oral health can help you maintain your overall health, too.

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