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Why You Should See a Dentist About Halitosis (Bad Breath)


Unless you avoid garlic, onions and a whole lot of delicious food, at some point, you’ll suffer from bad breath, technically known as halitosis. This type of bad breath (or a bit of morning breath) isn’t a concern and usually goes away pretty quickly. However, if halitosis is frequent, persistent or making you feel embarrassed, it’s time to visit your dentist. We offer bad breath treatment in Naperville because it’s a common problem our patients experience and it can occasionally, though not always, indicate a more serious health condition. Here’s what you need to know about the halitosis causes and how to manage the issue.

What are the Causes of Bad Breath?

  • Morning Breath – Our salvia production slows down significantly when we’re sleeping. Since the spit isn’t washing away the odor-causing bacteria, they linger in the mouth creating morning breath. Thankfully, this type of halitosis disappears as soon as we brush and saliva production returns to normal.
  • Food – The process of digestion actually begins in the mouth. When we eat certain foods with a strong odor, including garlic and onions, they give off a smell as they’re breaking down. Halitosis from food is temporary and goes away completely when the food passes through the body.
  • Poor Oral Hygiene – Poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of bad breath. If you don’t brush and floss diligently, food particles collect in the mouth. This promotes the growth of bacteria and a film of plaque forms in between the teeth and around the gums, releasing a stench. Bacteria can also collect on the tongue where it attaches to the epithelial cells. As the cells, bacteria and food particles set up shop in the cracks and crevices, they decompose and emit a foul-smell. If restorations or dentures aren’t cleaned properly or don’t fit correctly, they too will cause halitosis.
  • Periodontal Disease – Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is another one of the major bad breath causes. When plaque isn’t brushed away as often as necessary, it irritates the gums. Eventually, gum disease can result in the gums pulling away from the teeth and pockets forming. Plaque and bacteria accumulate in the pockets and if they’re deep, only a professional periodontal cleaning can remove it. Otherwise, it will stay there, creating halitosis and potentially leading to jaw bone loss, tooth loss and increasing the risk of developing issues like heart disease.
  • Dry Mouth – Dry mouth, or xerostomia, occurs when salvia production is decreased. As we noted when we talked about morning breath, saliva is necessary to clean the mouth of particles and bacteria that cause odors. Unlike morning breath, dry mouth can be a problem all day long. It’s usually caused by mouth breathing, issues with the salivary glands, dehydration, medications and certain diseases.
  • Dental Problems, Including Tooth Decay and Infection – Bad breath and cavities often go hand in hand. Tooth decay, just like any other type of decay, doesn’t produce a pleasant scent. Plus, teeth with cavities tend to trap more food, which exacerbates the problem. In addition to cavities bad breath can also be the result of an abscess or other mouth infection, peri-implant diseases, mouth sores or even wounds after oral surgery.
  • Sinus, Respiratory or Throat Conditions – Inflammation and infections of the throat, sinuses and nose that create postnasal drip often result in halitosis. Upper respiratory infections, including pneumonia and bronchitis, as well as tonsillitis and enlarged tonsils can also be culprits.
  • Medications – There are a number of medications that are notorious for causing dry mouth, indirectly leading to bad breath. However, others release chemicals that make the breath smell bad as the body breaks them down.
  • Tobacco Products – People who smoke or use other tobacco products usually suffer from halitosis, plus they’re more likely to have gum disease, which compounds the smell.
  • Illness and Other Conditions – To the average person, all bad breath is pretty much the same but different causes have different odors. For example, a fruity, sweet smell can be an indication of diabetic ketoacidosis, while an ammonia scent can be a sign of renal failure. Other conditions, including kidney and liver disease, chronic acid reflux, asthma, cancer and cystic fibrosis, can also cause halitosis.

Is My Bad Breath Serious?

The good news is that about 90% of cases of halitosis originate from the oral cavity and have causes like poor oral hygiene, tongue coating, faulty restorations, impacted food, periodontal disease, dry mouth or dentures that haven’t been cleaned properly. While embarrassing, none of these instances are life threatening and chances are good your halitosis isn’t serious. Yet, it’s not something to ignore either since if the source of your bad breath isn’t the oral cavity, it could be due to a health condition. The earlier you seek treatment, the better the outcome will be. It’s best to err on the side of caution and set-up an appointment if your halitosis is chronic, which brings us to our next point.

Should I See My Doctor or Dentist for Bad Breath?

Patients often wonder about seeing their dentist or doctor for bad breath. It’s recommended that you head to your dentist first. Our Naperville dentists and specialists are all trained to recognize when halitosis has an oral cause and get to the root of the problem. Since, as we mentioned, 90% of the time bad breath comes from the mouth, there’s a high likelihood your dentist will be the provider who will treat it. If they do rule out oral causes and suspect it’s from a medical condition, then you’ll need to see your general practitioner.

What are My Halitosis Treatment Options?

As for how to treat bad breath, it will depend on the underlying cause. At Naperville Dental Specialists, once one of our licensed dental hygienists does a thorough cleaning, a Naperville dentist will evaluate your mouth and get to the bottom of your halitosis. Here are some common ways we help our patients get fresh breath again:

  • Develop a Dedicated Oral Hygiene Routine – Since many cases of halitosis are due to poor oral hygiene, bad breath treatment often simply involves working with patients to develop a diligent homecare routine. This will mean brushing at least twice a day, flossing daily and making sure to keep your tongue clean as well. You’ll also have to clean your dentures as directed if you wear them. For an excess build-up of plaque, we might recommend adding some specialized products to the mix that neutralize volatile sulfur compounds, which are what actually cause the stink.
  • Treating Dental Conditions – Treating the dental conditions responsible for bad breath can be a permanent cure for halitosis. This could mean filling a cavity, treating an abscess or replacing faulty restorations.
  • Professional Cleanings – Professional dental cleanings are a must for keeping plaque and tartar at bay, which, in turn, helps with bad breath. If you suffer from periodontitis and have deep pockets, a professional periodontal cleaning is the only way to get rid of the accumulated plaque and resulting bad breath. Your Naperville dentist will discuss the treatment options and help you decide on a course of action that will restore your oral health and prevent halitosis.
  • Combatting Dry Mouth – If dry mouth is behind your halitosis, you’ll need to stay hydrated and sip on water throughout the day. You might have to reconsider certain medications if they’re really impacting your oral health. Sugarless gum can also be helpful since it stimulates the flow of saliva to neutralize the bacteria. Keep in mind, mints can be tempting but while they work temporarily to mask halitosis, they contain sugar, which makes bacteria multiply, worsening the bad smell.

Don’t let halitosis interfere with your confidence. As you can see, there are a variety of causes and treatments. To eliminate the odor once and for all and learn more about your options for bad breath treatment in Naperville, schedule a visit at Naperville Dental Specialists online or by calling us at (630) 848-2010.

Dr. Anthony LaVacca

Author Dr. Anthony LaVacca

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