What causes bad breath? Is it curable?

Brian Maurer
May 5, 2021
Oral Health and Lifestyle Advice
minute read

Bad breath, or halitosis, is a common condition that affects people of all ages and can decrease self-confidence and social interactions. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people have bad breath regularly. It can be a temporary case, usually from eating foods with a strong odor or a chronic infection usually driven by bacteria in our mouth or throat.

When certain bacteria build up on our teeth and tongue, they produce compounds that contain an unpleasant odor. These bacteria have also been associated with oral diseases like gum disease, which can have side effects like bleeding gums and tooth loss. They have also been tied to more severe conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer's. Thankfully these bacteria can be combated by leveraging the body's natural defense, saliva, and by making simple changes to your oral care regimen.

A common reason for bacterial buildup (and subsequent halitosis) is having decreased saliva (hyposalivation). Harmful bacteria can typically only survive in our mouth if they manage to hold on and not get swallowed. Saliva contains proteins that stick to the bacteria and act as a natural rinse to remove bacteria. These proteins include lysozymes that attack bacteria's cell walls and make them burst, and antibodies that prevent bacteria from settling onto our teeth and tongue. Lastly, saliva promotes healthy bacteria (non-acid causing) by providing nitrate, which feeds beneficial bacteria that kill acid-producing bacteria.

When we sleep, our saliva flow nearly stops, which is one reason why bad breath is most common when we first wake up. Other causes of dry mouth include certain medicines, drinking alcohol, dehydration, and missing meals (the act of chewing increases saliva in the mouth). To boost saliva production, make sure to stay well hydrated throughout the day, and consider using sugar-free gum (or mints), which stimulate chewing and produce more saliva.

Mouthwash can serve as a temporary relief for bad breath since it also kills the harmful bacteria, but it also kills the healthy bacteria, which are beneficial to our health. The harmful bacteria tend to replenish quickly after use.

The other most common solution is to improve your oral health regimen to reduce harmful bacteria and prevent gum disease. We each have a different community of bacteria in our mouths (oral microbiome), so the best regimen may differ for each of us. At Bristle, we test your saliva and give you a report of your microbiome and disease risk with personalized recommendations designed to work best for you.

Oral health news delivered to your inbox

Related Articles