If you've ever caught crowded public transport, you would have encountered at least one person with devastatingly bad breath. I'm not talking about the kind you get from eating a lasagne filled with garlic. More the kind of odour that slaps you in the face and makes you want to sniff some gorgonzola for relief.
All jokes aside though, halitosis can be a serious problem. Nobody wants to be that person with bad breath. If you're unsure if it's a problem you have, ask an honest, tactful friend. Is it a problem you just have to live with? Definitely not. Is a dentist the right person to see for help? As a starting point, yes.
Most of the time the cause of halitosis is something in the mouth. So, if you're concerned about your breath, a dentist is a really good place to start. Tooth decay and gum disease are both infections due to bacteria, which in turn cause foul odours. In some people, the tongue is also a haven for bugs, so daily tongue cleaning can offer some relief.
Occasionally I'll see a patient who presents complaining of bad breath, then I find half a roast dinner stuck between their teeth, or a tomato plant growing under their denture. Basic oral hygiene helps! If you've been given the all-clear by a dentist, then there's a chance your bad breath is coming from somewhere else up or down the line. By that I mean anywhere else connected to your mouth, so your nose, throat, lungs, oesophagus or stomach. These are all places that fall outside the realm of dentistry, so your next step should be to visit your GP for a checkup.
Some of the things worth checking for are:
- Colds, sinus infections, or allergies causing your nose to be stuffed up.
- Tonsillitis and other throat infections.
- Bronchial and lung infections.
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, commonly experienced as indigestion or heartburn.
There are also systemic diseases that can cause strange smelling breath. Uncontrolled diabetes creates a sickly sweet smell, and there are distinctive breath odours associated with kidney and liver failure. With all of these conditions there's the potential for very serious causes or complications. Life threatening causes like cancer. Don't ignore chronic bad breath or think it's just a part of life. Persevering with chewing gum trying to cover up the smell won't solve the underlying problem. Get to your dentist and doctor, get rid of the smell, then lean in close to that good-looking person next to you on the bus with fresh, sweet-smelling confidence.