Did you know that $850 million per year is spent in the USA alone for mouthwashes, breath mints and breath spray? Unfortunately, these products do no more than cover up bad breath. There is a great deal of misinformation about what causes mouth odor and some of it is being used to market products with no proven value.
Does bad breath come from the stomach? It might play a small role if you have gastric ulcers, a hiatal hernia or reflux. However, for the most part mal odors come from the mouth.
Can certain medications cause bad breath? Absolutely, with some of the worst culprits being antihistamines (allergy medications) and decongestants. Any medications which produce a dry mouth will also cause temporary bad breath.
Do certain medical conditions cause bad breath? G.I. problems such as ulcers and acid reflux can contribute to bad breath. Diabetes, liver failure and kidney dysfunction can cause bad breath.
Is bad breath associated with odors produced in the mouth? Yes, and this is where the vast majority of problems originate. The key to understanding mal odors is knowing about Volatile Sulfur Compounds or VSC’s. These compounds are produced by certain bacteria in our mouths as they breakdown amino acids. The VSC’s produce bad odors. If you can eliminate VSC’s, you can eliminate odors originating in the mouth.
How do you eliminate VSC’s? VSC’s come from bacteria so it stands to reason that eliminating bacteria should eliminate VSC’s. The bacterial culprit here is called plaque. If we can completely eliminate plaque on a daily basis with meticulous flossing and brushing, then we can keep production of VSC’s to a minimal level.
What would prevent me from removing plaque from my mouth? Aside from the lack of proper flossing and brushing there exists a number of impediments to proper plaque removal. Having fillings which are decayed and breaking down creates areas where bacteria grow. Having poorly fitted crowns can also create areas you are unable to clean properly. Gum disease is also an obstacle to removing VSC’s. When gum disease is present it is impossible to be plaque-less. In the battle against bad breath, gum disease is always considered a major component. Having less than ideal dentistry in your mouth as well as having less than ideal gum health can lead to overproduction of VSC’s and therefore halitosis.
What about the foods I eat – can they contribute to bad breath? Yes, foods such as garlic and onions will produce odors. Many exotic spices will also do this. However, food induced odors are always short lived.
Are there any products available which reduce VSC’s? Yes, there is a very specific compound (chlorine dioxide) which neutralizes VSC’s quite efficiently. Many companies are marketing their version of mouthwashes and toothpastes containing chlorine dioxide. The products are a wonderful addition in the war against bad breath and our patients have found remarkable results with their use.