Bad breath or bad choices?

Have you come across a situation where someone you know has bad breath, and you really wanted to tell them? But you’re not sure whether you should tell them because you don’t want to come across as rude. Your mind then enters a tug a war pulling your thoughts between telling and not telling. Somehow you always end up not telling because you think you should mind your own business and upsetting or embarrassing him or her is not nice. What’s worse is that there are people who would tell lies even when someone asks them if they have bad breath…clearly the tip of your nose is sticking out like a bad hair day aye.


In reality, I think you must tell,…we all should tell simply because the majority of people have bad breath and don’t know it! As unconventional as it may sound, you could be doing them a favour if you are direct with them. Ask yourself a question, wouldn’t you want to know that you had stinky breath? I would for sure! Because the last thing I want to do is run around talking to patients thinking I have the breath of roses where in fact it’s a breath from landfills! Also, the earlier you find out, the faster you can figure out the root cause of it and can deal with it quickly. Because quite frankly, a mint or two may not always be the panacea we thought of it to be.


When we think about bad breath, we always relate it to a rotten tooth or bad food choices like eating loads of garlic or onions. Believe me or not, there are, in fact, more causes of bad breath than the common two.


One of the things that I would always suggest people focus on first is to practice good dental hygiene. Look, I’m no dentist, but the repetitive take-home message each time I receive from my dentist is to brush, brush, brush and floss, floss, floss. The reason brushing is not enough because the pulled pork burger that you had for lunch is most likely stuck between the tiny gaps between your teeth without you realising it. The shredded pork between your teeth will then undergo a breakdown process initiated by the bacteria that are already present in your mouth. As the food breakdowns, more bacteria will be replicated and cause a foul smell (or odour). These bacteria will produce a sticky film called plaque on your teeth, and if not brushed away, those irritating plaque can eventually form plaque-filled pockets between your teeth and gums causing inflammation.


Brushing your tongue is a manoeuvre; many don’t see a point doing but contributes a great deal to the cause of bad breath because the tiny “hairs” on your tongue, besides giving you a sense of taste, they are also particularly good at trapping bacteria and hence producing bad smell. So next time when you are doing your morning routine in the bathroom, make flossing a part of it. Make your kids do it too and help them start a habit that they will thank you for later on in life. I know that the “floss dance” your kid learned from their school mates was traumatising to watch, but maybe that is the only way to get your kid to floss their teeth. Who knows, they may spread the word at school and you could be doing the world a great favour.


I remember once a patient of mine asked me how to get rid of bad breath for good. The first question I ask her was, do you get dry mouth? Many people don’t realise that dry mouth is a major contributing factor to bad breath. Why is that? Well, your saliva is your body’s natural defence against bacteria because it has an antiseptic property. Also, the role of saliva is to moisten the mouth, neutralize acids produced by plaque, and wash away dead cells that accumulate on the tongue, gums and cheeks. If not removed, these dead cells decompose and can cause bad breath. Now, this leads to the next question – why do we get dry mouth? Dry mouth can be a medical condition but many people get dry mouth from the medication they are taking. Medication that causes dry mouth such as antihistamines, antidepressants are some of the few medications that can indirectly be producing bad breath through drying your mouth.


Dry mouth also naturally occurs during sleep. This is because when you are sleeping, the production of saliva usually reduces, and the bacteria in your mouth can take advantage of this and can cause morning breath. This is particularly worsened when you are a mouth breather. When you breathe through your mouth, the saliva will evaporate and can dry out your mouth and compromising your mouth’s ability to rinse away food particles or dead cells.


One piece of advice for all of you to prevent your mouth from drying is to drink lots of water. Drinking coffee, fizzy drinks or alcohol can result in a drier mouth. So, water is a must, and you should drink plenty of it to cleanse and keep your mouth moist. You could also try chewing gum or sucking on hard candy to stimulates the production of saliva.


Another major cause of dry mouth that I come across frequently is skipping meals. Skipping meals is not only the worst way to try to lose weight, but it can also cause an unpleasant smell in your mouth. This is because when you don’t eat, your body will slow down the production of saliva. As we all know from earlier that saliva helps cleanse our mouth by washing down and food particles and stop our mouth from smelling foul. When you produce less saliva, your mouth becomes dry and creating the perfect conditions for bacteria to flourish, and sequentially leading to bad breath. If you have to skip a meal (which I don’t usually recommend), make sure you still keep your water intake up because this will help stimulate your salivary glands to produce sufficient amount of saliva to help keep your mouth moist and eliminate any bacteria that can generate bad breath.


Have you ever noticed someone you know who smokes usually have bad breath? This is because cigarette smoking causes bad breath in 2 ways. Firstly, when you have a puff of a cigarette, the chemical compounds increases the amount of bad smell producing compounds in a person’s mouth and lungs. Secondly, cigarette smoking can dry out your mouth, leading to lower saliva production. So if you know of a friend or family member who smokes, now is the time to break them the bad news that you always wanted to break. Maybe telling them if they have bad breath may be enough to motivate them to quit. (If any of you who want to quit smoking but don’t know how –talk to me as I have spent many years helping many patients quitting the habit for good.)


Anyways, everyone at some stage of their life will experience episodes of bad breath. However, it is one of the embarrassing health issues that is not widely talked about. There is light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to managing it. Hence there is no need to brush it under that mat. Finding the root cause of it is crucial but acknowledging the problem takes courage. Whether is bad breath of a bothering health issue, make this year the year you finally do something about it.


To you and your family’s health