We Americans spend billions on oral hygiene products each year, primarily to fight tooth decay and gum disease. But there's also a secondary motive—to freshen our breath. Our obsession with our breath's olfactory quality has even given rise to National Fresh Breath Day on August 6.
Bad breath is usually not a serious health issue, but it can be a big deal in other respects. In a recent Match.com survey, more than a third of its 5,000 respondents said fresh breath was their top concern during a date.
Romance aside, bad breath can also adversely affect other social and career relationships. Given that, it's no wonder we buy mints and mouthwashes by the ton. Unfortunately, much of what people purchase only masks breath odor without addressing the underlying cause.
While serious conditions like diabetes, liver disease or cancer can give rise to it, the primary source of bad breath is oral bacteria. Many of the hundreds of bacterial strains inhabiting our mouths generate volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) with a smell akin to rotten eggs or decaying animal or vegetable matter. The longer these bacteria remain in the mouth, the more VSCs and their unpleasant odors they create.
Bacteria mainly thrive in a thin film of food particles known as dental plaque. It can build up quickly on tooth and gum surfaces, particularly with ineffective or non-existent oral hygiene. Dental plaque also causes tooth decay or gum disease, which may also contribute to unpleasant mouth odors.
Chronic dry mouth, in which the body isn't producing enough saliva, also encourages bacterial growth. Among its many functions, saliva's antibacterial compounds reduce bacterial populations. Without sufficient saliva, though, VSC-producing bacteria can run amok.
There's nothing wrong with swishing some mouthwash or popping a breath mint before a big meeting. But if you really want to alleviate bad breath, it's better to take direct action against the oral bacteria causing it.
The best thing you can do is maintain a daily regimen of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque. This should also include cleaning the top surface of your tongue, which can be a prime hiding place for bacteria, particularly at the back of the tongue. You can simply brush your tongue with your toothbrush or use a special tongue scraper.
You should also keep up regular dental visits, which include cleanings to remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). You should also see the dentist to treat any occurring dental diseases or conditions, including chronic dry mouth.
Fresh breath has everything to do with a clean, healthy mouth. Keeping it so can help you avoid those embarrassing odors.
If you would like more information about how to better keep your breath fresh, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”