Bad breath (halitosis), means that you have an unpleasant smell on your breath that other people notice when you speak or breathe out. The exact number of people with bad breath is not known, but it is common.
Plaque is the sticky, colorless film of bacteria that forms on teeth. It makes teeth “feel fuzzy” to the tongue and is most noticeable when teeth are not brushed.
How can I tell if I have bad breath?
The main problem with bad breath (halitosis) is that often the only person not to notice it is the person affected. (You become used to your own smell and do not tend to notice your own bad breath.) Often, the only way to know about it is if a person comments on it. However, most people are too polite to comment on another person’s bad breath. You may have to rely on a family member or a close friend to be honest and tell you if you have bad breath.
Perhaps you could ask your dentist next time you have a check-up. A dentist will normally be able to say if you have bad breath. Gum disease is a common cause of bad breath and a dentist will be able to advise on treatment if you have gum disease.
Some people suggest a simple test which you can do yourself to detect bad breath. Lick the inside of your wrist. Wait a few seconds for the saliva to dry. Then smell the licked part of the wrist. If you detect an unpleasant smell, you are likely to have bad breath.
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Everyone develops plaque because bacteria are constantly forming in our mouths. These bacteria use ingredients found in our diet and saliva to grow. Plaque causes cavities when the acids from plaque attack teeth after eating. With repeated acid attacks, the tooth enamel can break down and a cavity may form. Plaque that is not removed can also irritate the gums around your teeth, leading to gingivitis (red, swollen, bleeding gums), periodontal disease and tooth loss.
Signs & Symptoms of Plaque
Everyone develops plaque because bacteria are constantly growing in our mouths, so it is not easy to see. Plaque that is not removed from around the gum line can cause inflammation and irritation to the gums around your teeth.
What Causes Plaque and Why Is It Harmful?
Plaque develops when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as milk, soft drinks, raisins, cakes, or candy are frequently left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth thrive on these foods, producing acids as a result. Over a period of time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay. Plaque can also develop on the tooth roots under the gum and cause breakdown of the bone supporting the tooth.
What are the causes and types of bad breath?
Coming from within the mouth
Most cases of bad breath (halitosis) come from germs (bacteria) or debris that builds up within the mouth. This is discussed in more detail later in the leaflet.
Morning bad breath
Most people have some degree of bad breath after a night’s sleep. This is normal and occurs because the mouth tends to get dry and stagnate overnight. This usually clears when the flow of saliva increases soon after starting to eat breakfast.
Dry mouth (xerostomia)
Bad breath associated with a dry mouth is caused by a reduction in the cleansing mechanism of the mouth as a result of reduced flow of saliva. There are many causes of a dry mouth. The most common cause is after a night’s sleep (discussed above). Dry mouth may also occur:
- Due to a lack of fluid in the body (dehydration).
- As a side-effect of some medicines (for example, tricyclic antidepressants).
- As a symptom of some diseases (such as Sjögren’s syndrome).
- Following radiotherapy to the head and neck region.
Foods, drinks and medicines
Chemicals in foods can get into the bloodstream, and then be breathed out from the lungs. Most people are familiar with the smell of garlic, spicy foods and alcoholic drinks on the breath of people who have recently eaten or drunk these. Various other foods and medicines can cause a smell on the breath. This type of bad breath is temporary and easily cured by not eating the food. (However, some people eat spiced food every day. As a result, they will constantly have a typical smell on their breath.)
If a medicine is causing the problem then discuss possible alternatives with your doctor. Medicines that have been associated with bad breath include:
- Chloral hydrate
- Nitrites and nitrates
- Dimethyl sulfoxide
- Some chemotherapy medicines
Most non-smokers can tell if a person is a smoker by their breath which “smells like an ashtray”. Stopping smoking is the only cure for this type of bad breath. Smoking also increases the risk of developing gum disease – another cause of bad breath.
Crash dieting or fasting
Can cause a sickly sweet smell on the breath. This is due to chemicals called ketones being made by the breakdown of fat. Some ketones are then breathed out with each breath.
Other medical causes are uncommon. Some people with nasal problems can get bad breath. For example, a lump (polyp) in the nose, sinusitis or a small object stuck in a nostril (occurs most commonly in children) can cause a bad smell. In this situation, the smell tends to occur only, or more severely, when you breathe out through your nose. It is not so noticeable when you breathe out through your mouth. Infections or tumours of the lung, throat, mouth or tonsils are sometimes a cause. Other causes are rare.
However, in these medical cases, there are usually other symptoms that would indicate the cause. For example, a blocked nose, sinus pain, chest symptoms, a high temperature (fever), etc. If you are otherwise well and have no other symptoms apart from bad breath, the smell is likely to be coming from a build-up of bacteria in the mouth and other medical causes are unlikely.
Fish odour syndrome (trimethylaminuria)
This is a rare medical cause but worth being aware of. It typically causes breath and body odour that is often like a fishy smell. It occurs because the body loses the ability to properly break down trimethylamine which is found in certain foods. There is then a build-up of trimethylamine in the body which is released in sweat, urine, and breath. Urine and blood tests can help to confirm this diagnosis if it is suspected.
Bad breath coming from within the mouth
In most people who have bad breath (halitosis), the bad smell is thought to come from germs (bacteria) and debris within the mouth. As the bacteria break down proteins and other debris in the mouth, they release foul-smelling gases. One or more of the following may contribute to the build-up of bacteria, debris and bad breath:
- Food stuck between teeth. Normal teeth brushing may not clear bits of food which can get stuck between teeth. The food then rots and becomes riddled with bacteria. Regular cleaning between the teeth can clear and prevent this problem.
- Plaque, tartar (calculus) and gum disease. Dental plaque is a soft whitish deposit that forms on the surface of teeth. It forms when bacteria combine with food and saliva. Plaque contains many types of bacteria. Calculus is hardened calcified plaque. It sticks firmly to teeth. Gum disease means infection or inflammation of the tissues that surround the teeth. If your gums look inflamed, or regularly bleed when you clean your teeth, you are likely to have gum disease. The severity can range from mild to severe.
- Coating on the back of the tongue. In some people, a coating develops on the back part of the tongue. It is not clear why this occurs. It may be from mucus that drips down from the back of the nose (postnasal drip). The coating can contain many bacteria. This explains why bad breath can sometimes occur in people with otherwise good oral hygiene.
- Tonsil stones (tonsilloliths). These are clusters of calcified material that form in the tonsillar crypts, or crevices of the tonsils. They are made up mostly of calcium but can contain other ingredients such as magnesium and phosphorus, and can feel like a small lump in the tonsils. Rarely harmful, they can be a nuisance and hard to remove and can often cause bad breath.
The single Ingredient That Puts an End to Plaque and Bad Breath
The single ingredient is known as oil and the process of putting an end to plaque and bad breath is known as oil pulling.
Oil pulling is an ancient practice discussed in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita. This method includes swishing the oil in the mouth for several minutes a day. The benefits of this method are numerous.
Health Benefits of Oil Pulling
- Healthy teeth and gums
- Improved respiratory health, especially for those with a history of allergies and asthma
- Healthy sinuses
- Relaxed neck and jaw muscles
- Better joint health
- Support of the body’s natural mechanisms to remove toxins
- Healthy skin
This ancient technique is mostly known for its teeth-whitening and bad breath-banishing benefits.
The lipophilic oils used in this process attract other oils and fat-soluble toxins from the body. Then they remove them from any area where the oil is introduced to. The most reliable benefits are provided by uncooked sesame oil, coconut oil and turmeric.
Therefore, practising oil pulling will cleanse your body from toxins and improve the oral health. It will detoxify the teeth and gums and whiten your teeth. Moreover, you’ll get rid of tartar, plaque and kill all the harmful bacteria in your mouth.
Process of Oil Pulling
Put 1 tablespoon of oil in your mouth and gargle or swish the moil in the mouth. Continue the process for 15 to 20 minutes, until the oil has become thin and whitish in color. Then spit it out, and rinse the mouth with warm water. In the end, brush your teeth as you would normally do.
- Do not swallow the oil.
- Use sesame oil to support healthy teeth and bones
- Practice this treatment in the morning on an empty stomach or before going to bed.
- Initially the oil may not have a pleasant taste, but you will get used to this.
You will notice the result in just one week. Use this technique on a regular basis and enjoy life with a whiter and brighter smile!
Sources and References:
Halitosis; NICE CKS, January 2010
Gingivitis and periodonitis; NICE CKS, August 2012
Coventry J, Griffiths G, Scully C, et al; ABC of oral health: periodontal disease. BMJ. 2000 Jul 1 321(7252):36-9.
Fife, Bruce. ”Oil Pulling Therapy: Detoxifying and Healing the Body Through Oral Cleansing”;
Coleman, Michelle. ”Oil Pulling Revolution”;
Frohn, Birgit. ”The Oil Pulling Miracle: Detoxify Simply and Effectively”;