Dentist’s guide to fixing bad breath

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With summer just around the corner, social calendars are about to fill up. But could your breath be holding you back? 

According to the European Journal of Dentistry, approximately 50% of the population suffer from bad breath at any given time.

It’s suggested that lifestyle habits linked with bad breath include overindulgence in sugary foods, irregular dental appointments and inconsistent dental routines.

Now, a dentist shares his guide to eliminating bad breath to help your social life bounce back.

Dr Heath Fraser, an experienced cosmetic dentist and dental surgeon, is the founder of AirSmile, an online comparison platform that compares dentists across the country, and enables Aussies to book and manage appointments.

Dr Fraser owns two dental clinics, Avenue Dental Kawana and Fresh Breath Clinic in Queensland, leading a team of more than 20 across his three businesses.

With more than 15 years of experience in the dental industry, Dr Fraser has treated thousands of patients and helped many tackle their bad breath.

“Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is a universal health condition that many people will experience at some point in their lives,” says Dr Fraser.

“However, bad breath causes more than just embarrassment – it has also been linked to depression and overall poorer quality of life.

“Unfortunately, bad breath can be caused by many factors, some obvious to the naked eye and others [that might be] hidden in the oral cavity.

“Often several factors will combine to a point where the odour becomes noticeable to others, leading to what is known as chronic halitosis, however, the presence of bacteria is nearly always the cause.

“Fortunately, most of the causes of bad breath can be easily treated through simple lifestyle changes and a shift in one’s dental routine.

“However, if Aussies are finding it challenging to combat bad breath, visiting a trusted oral hygiene professional will help them identify signs of gum disease or other factors that may be exacerbating the issue,” he explains.

Common causes of bad breath and how Aussies can avoid them

  • Poor dental hygiene

Dr Fraser says poor dental hygiene, such as failing to brush regularly, not flossing or tongue cleaning and using mouthwash containing alcohol, is one of the most common causes of bad breath.

In fact, according to the Australian Dental Association (2020), only half of Australian adults brush their teeth twice a day.

Dr Fraser says, “Even if you do follow a healthy dental care routine at home, improper brushing or flossing technique can still leave dental plaque and food particles decaying inside your mouth that will continue to feed bacteria, all contributing to bad breath.”

The solution:

Dr Fraser recommends using products such as alcohol-free mouthwashes, toothpaste, probiotics, or tongue scrapers that are specifically designed to treat bad breath rather than simply masking it temporarily.

  • Poor dental work

Existing fillings, crowns, bridges, implants, and dentures as well as any other restorative treatments to repair broken teeth and fill gaps can produce areas in the mouth that harbour odour-emitting bacteria.

Unfortunately, it’s said that if these treatments are not performed to the highest standard, they can quickly trap food and plaque in difficult-to-reach places, causing bacteria build-up.

These areas can often be impossible to clean at home and may need rectification from an oral health professional.

The solution:

Dr Fraser recommends visiting a trusted professional for a detailed examination to assess and remedy any prior dental work as soon as you have any concerns.

Comparison sites, such as AirSmile, can help Australians find the most appropriate dentist to address any concerns.

  • Gum-related infections

Bacteria invading the gums, resulting in gingivitis and periodontitis, are the predominant causes of bad breath and tooth loss in the world.

It’s said that a third of adults have untreated and potentially painful tooth decay.

The solution:

Dr Fraser recommends Aussies seek regular dental check-ups at least twice yearly to address any gum-related concerns or infections and prevent serious conditions arising.

He says: “Those who wait longer than six months to have their gums professionally assessed and, if necessary, treated, may be at risk of contracting periodontitis, a serious gum infection.

“If left untreated, not only will an individual develop bad breath, but they will also notice bleeding, food build-up, tender gums, sensitive teeth and even tooth loss.”

  • Respiratory tract infections

Reportedly, bad breath doesn’t always originate from the teeth or gums.

Throat infections, sinus infections and lung infections, can fuel bacterial growth and mucus production, which in turn can result in bad breath.

The solution:

Dr Fraser recommends Aussies rinse their sinuses with warm water, alongside their usual dental hygiene routine, to clear out excess mucus.

Clearing of the sinuses should also be done following any additional treatment prescribed by their doctor. 

  • Food choices

Dr Fraser says food such as garlic, onion, dairy products, and vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli and cabbage, can cause bad breath due to the fact that they break down into sulphur in the digestive system.

While this can often be remedied by thoroughly brushing one’s teeth, foods such as onions and garlic can often linger on the breath.

The solution:

Dr Fraser says: “Once garlic reaches the stomach, it absorbs into the bloodstream before returning to our lungs, giving off a smell. Studies have shown that raw apple, raw lettuce, and mint leaves can significantly decrease garlic-induced bad breath.”

Otherwise, Dr Fraser recommends purchasing a good mouthwash or chewing on some sugar-free gum for a quick fix until you are able to brush your teeth.

  • Smoking and overconsumption of alcohol

Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can also have a considerable impact on breath, as well as overall health.

Tobacco products in particular almost guarantee bad breath as well as an array of other oral health problems.

Cigarette smoke lingers in the throat and mouth, even after a cigarette is finished, leaving an unpleasant smell.

The chemicals in the cigarette smoke mix with a person’s saliva, leading to bad breath while also decreasing saliva’s protective properties, and increasing the risk of cancer.

The solution:

Dr Fraser recommends cutting back or quitting, where possible, to maintain oral and personal wellbeing.

If you are unable to quit on your own, speak to your dentist or GP for further guidance and support.

  • Chronic illnesses

The mouth is the main gateway into the body for disease-causing bacteria.

Dr Fraser says research is continually finding that oral health has a significant impact on the overall body.

It’s said that poor oral hygiene has been linked to a number of serious conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis and liver disease.

These conditions are known to cause distinct odours in the breath, often as a result of increased susceptibility to gum disease.

The solution:

Dr Fraser recommends Aussies seek professional advice from a doctor, particularly if they have a family history of the disease, to address any health concerns or predispositions.

“Those who already have a diagnosis should visit a trusted dentist to discuss treatment plans to help maintain good oral health,” he says.  

  • Hunger

Skipping meals or even generally being hungry has the potential to impact breath.

Dr Fraser explains: “Chewing food increases saliva production in the mouth and the longer we go without it, the slower our saliva production becomes, leaving more room for bacterial growth and causing bad breath. Saliva production also slows down overnight, which is what usually leads to morning breath”.

The solution:

Dr Fraser says regular meals and adequate hydration will usually do the trick.

Otherwise chewing sugar-free gum is also an easy yet effective solution.