What causes bad breath?

Bad breath is a very common problem and there are many different causes. Persistent bad breath is usually caused by the smelly gases released by bacteria that coat your teeth and gums. However, strong foods like garlic and onions can add to the problem. Smoking is also one of the main causes of bad breath, along with certain illnesses such as nasal and stomach conditions. Bits of food that get caught between the teeth and on the tongue will rot and can sometimes cause an unpleasant smell. So correct and regular brushing is very important to keep your breath smelling fresh. 

The bacteria on our teeth and gums (plaque) also cause gum disease and dental decay. If you see your dentist regularly this will not only help prevent bad breath but will also let the dentist look for and treat these problems.

How can I tell if I have bad breath?

Lots of small signals can show that you have bad breath. Have you noticed people stepping away when you start to talk? Do people turn their cheek when you kiss them goodbye? 

If you think you might have bad breath, there is a simple test that you can do. Simply lick the inside of your wrist and sniff – if the smell is bad, you can be pretty sure that your breath is too. 

Or, ask a very good friend to be absolutely honest, but do make sure they are a true friend.

How can my dentist help?

If you do have bad breath, you will need to start a routine for keeping your mouth clean and fresh. Regular check-ups will allow your dentist to watch out for any areas where plaque is caught between your teeth. Your dentist or hygienist will be able to clean all those areas that are difficult to reach. They will also be able to show you the best way to clean your teeth and gums, and show you any areas you may be missing, including your tongue.

Can I prevent bad breath?

To keep your breath fresh, you must get rid of any gum disease, and keep your mouth clean and fresh. If you do have bad breath, try keeping a diary of all the foods you eat and list any medicines you are taking. Take this diary to your dentist who may be able to suggest ways to solve the problem.

 Brush your teeth and gums twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Don't forget to brush your tongue as well. Use dental floss once a day for cleaning between your teeth. There are other products you can buy to clean between your teeth (they are called ‘interdental cleaners'). 

If you wear dentures, take them out at night to give your mouth chance to rest. Do not clean them with toothpaste as it will scratch the surface and more stains will build up. They will also lose their shine. Hold them over a bowl of water or a towel in case you drop them. Clean them thoroughly with soap and lukewarm water, a denture cream or a denture cleaning tablet. Use a denture brush kept just for the purpose. Remember to clean the surfaces that fit against your gums and palate. This will make sure your dentures are always fresh and clean, and avoid the plaque build-up on the denture that may cause bad breath.

What products are available?

There are several types of toothpastes you can use, from total care toothpastes to those especially for sensitive teeth. Look for the toothpaste that will suit your needs. If you know that you often get food stuck between your teeth, you may need to brush after every meal. So carry a brush and interdental cleaner with you. 

Most mouthwashes only disguise bad breath for a short time. So if you find that you are using a mouthwash all the time, talk to your dentist, because they may be able to recommend an antibacterial or chlorhexidine mouthwash for you to use. Some mouthwashes that are recommended for gum disease can cause tooth staining if you use them for a long time. It is important to read the manufacturer's instructions or ask your dentist about how and when to use them. 

Look for products carrying the British Dental Health Foundation 'Approved' symbol. These products have been clinically and scientifically tested, and a panel of dental experts have decided whether the packaging claims are correct before giving their accreditation badge.

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