Suffering from halitosis? To ascertain your answer, simply lick the inside of your wrist with the back of your tongue; wait for a few seconds until the saliva dries. If you get an unpleasant smell from your wrist, there is likelihood that you are a sufferer.
Also referred to as smelly mouth, studies have estimated that up to 50 per cent of people have halitosis.
It is important to know that halitosis can occur even if you brush and floss your teeth regularly. Bad breath is caused by the gums and tongue – not the teeth.
Sometimes, it only lasts for a short period, but with some sufferers, it is persistent.
Halitosis can be as a result of poor dental health habits. It can also be worsened by the types of food one eats and incessant indulgence in other unhealthy lifestyle habits.
Clinically considered a minor issue, persistent bad breath may be as a result of serious health issues, however. Buttressing this, a dentist, Dr. Kolawole Obagbemiro, said a smelly mouth can be a pointer to some underlying problems.
He said, “Halitosis is mostly caused by sulphur-producing bacteria that normally live on the surface of the tongue and in the throat. Sometimes, these bacteria start to break down proteins at a very high rate and odorous volatile sulphur compounds are released from the back of the tongue and throat. Anyone with bad breath should go for oral examination. Persistent bad breath may be a warning sign of gum (periodontal) disease.
“Gum disease is caused by the buildup of plaque on teeth. Bacteria cause the formation of toxins to form, which irritate the gums. If gum disease continues untreated, it can damage the gums and jaw bone.
“Other dental causes of bad breath include poorly fitting dental appliances, yeast infection of the mouth, and dental caries (cavities).
“The medical condition, dry mouth (also called xerostomia) also can cause bad breath. Saliva is necessary to moisten the mouth, neutralise acids produced by plaque, and wash away dead cells that accumulate on the tongue, gums, and cheeks. If not removed, these cells decompose and can cause bad breath. Dry mouth may be a side effect of various medications, salivary gland problems, or continuous breathing through the mouth.”
According to Obagbemiro, the disease affects all ages, including babies. A baby can be infected by a mother, who is a sufferer but who constantly puts her mouth in the baby’s. Thus she inflicts bacteria in the baby’s oral environment.
But men stand a higher risk of suffering from halitosis. Explaining further, Obagbemiro said, “From research, bad breath is more common in men because women tend to pay more attention to hygiene and regularly take care of their bodies compared to men.”
A nutritionist at the Federal Medical Centre, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Okunola Oladimeji shared the same view but with a caveat:
“To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think there is any research that states that men are more likely to have bad breath than women. It is more common in men than women. This is because women are more conscious of personal hygiene and would always go the extra mile to smell and look good. Once a woman notices that she has bad breath, she could go to any length to deal with it; a man may not be too concerned even when his attention is being drawn to it,” he explained.
Stressing the need for proper but healthy eating habits, he said consumption of sweets and junk foods at night propels bad breath.
“Generally, late night meals are unhealthy. When such meals are taken and one doesn’t brush one’s teeth, particles are stuck in the teeth and this serve as breeding ground for bacteria. Ideally, one should brush at least twice in a day — morning and before going to bed at night.”
An uncontrolled lifestyle of alcohol and cigarettes consumption is another cause of bad breath.
Oladimeji explained that, “Persons addicted to alcohol permanently suffer from halitosis. Not only that, consuming leftovers without heating on the stove or other cooking device, could cause bad breath. Also, don’t forget the tongue. It is a major cause of mouth odour, if your tongue is not well washed, it could cause bad breath,” he said.
For those who opt for bubble gum in dealing with bad breath, he warned that chewing gum aggravates the situation in any sufferer
“Chewing gum regularly doesn’t take care of bad breath; rather, it damages one’s teeth. Even when some minty bubble gum is taken, they provide a temporary relief and once the flavour is drained, the smell continues. But before visiting a dentist to complain of bad breath, ensure you are not taking drugs that could propel bad breath.
Speaking on the symptoms of bad breath, Obagbemiro said, “If one notices a white coating on the tongue especially at the back of the tongue, this could be a symptom of bad breath.”
Other symptoms, he said, include dry mouth, build up around the teeth, post-nasal drip or mucous, morning bad breath and a burning tongue, thick saliva and a constant need to clear the throat and constant sour, bitter metallic taste in the mouth.”
Treatment for halitosis is simple and can easily be carried out by adhering to dental instructions. According to the chief dental Officer, Lagos State Health Service Commission, Dr. Olufemi Orebanjo, treatment is based on the primary cause of halitosis.
He said, “Avoiding dehydration by drinking lots of water and maintaining a good oral hygiene are major steps to take. This means brushing and flossing of the teeth are important. Already, some mouthwashes and toothpastes are manufactured for this purpose and can assist in fighting halitosis.
“Gentle, but effective tongue cleaning is also required. A variety of tongue brushes and scrapers have been produced in recent years. The tongue should be brushed in a gentle but thorough manner, from the back towards the front of the tongue, keeping in mind that the hardest to reach back portion smells the worst. But consult your dentist to identify the cause of the bad breath and to get the most effective treatment for you.”
Orebanjo, however, noted that the condition shouldn’t be treated with kid’s gloves.
He said “Halitosis may be related to a disease in one’s digestive system or airways. If left untreated, the person’s health deteriorates and could lead to death. Doctors don’t like mentioning this aspect so as not to scare people.”
Mentioning the fact that bad breath affects people of all age groups, he advised that everyone, including men, should be concerned about personal hygiene.