When you’ve just scoffed a grab bag of cheese and onion crisps, or are waking up after a night on the gin, it’s fair to say that you expect your breath to be… well, a little bit rank.
But what about when you’ve brushed, flossed, mouthwashed, and not eaten anything particularly potent (we’re looking at you, garlic bread), and are still finding that your breath is less minty, more malodorous?
Having a good oral hygiene routine is obviously crucial if you want to avoid halitosis, but it’s not the only factor that can play a part in the smell that comes out when you open your mouth. Here are nine surprising reasons you could be suffering from bad breath, as well as expert advice on how you can freshen back up…
1. You’re dehydrated
We’re sure you don’t need us to preach the virtues of getting your recommended dose of H2O on a daily basis, but as well as keeping your skin clear, digestion healthy and concentration sharp, staying hydrated is one of most basic ways to avoid bad breath.
"Dehydration can cause halitosis because bacteria that live in the mouth tend to multiply as the mouth dries out," says Dr. Harold Katz, a dentist, bacteriologist and founder of The Breath Company (who knows a thing or two about the subject). "Many of these bacteria are harmless, but some can be the source of stubborn halitosis. Dehydration causes a decrease in the production of saliva which fights many of these bacteria."
"Individuals who get dehydrated generally do not drink much water, but this can help reduce the risk of bad breath because it rinses the mouth of food particles between brushings," Dr Katz adds. "These food particles often linger between teeth and along the gum-line and can be the source of unpleasant aromas." Don’t forget that getting sick, drinking alcohol, sweating, crying and many other factors can cause you to lose fluid as well, and you need to readdress this balance.
2. You’re eating low-carb
Whether it’s keto, paleo or Atkins, cutting down on carbs and upping your protein intake can be a major factor in whether or not you have bad breath. This is because they cause your body to break down fat for energy and create ketones.
"One of these ketones, acetone, is often emitted out of the body through urine or your breath. If you feel like your breath can be easily compared to a rotten fruit - gross - you may be experiencing ketobreath," Dr Katz explains.
"If you're just cutting down on your carbohydrate intake, you shouldn't experience ketobreath. However, if your body is running primarily on fat for energy - instead of carbs - this is when the problem occurs. For some people, this is a sign of success because they are expecting to have symptoms of halitosis when trying to lose weight, but this can actually put a lot of stress on your kidneys because there is an excess of ketones."
3. You’re skipping meals
Fasting, or even just simply not eating regularly, can also have a negative impact on the freshness of your breath.
"Whatever your reason for fasting, without regular meals or fluids, the mouth slows its production of saliva. Without this bacteria-fighting moisture in the mouth, your tongue and palate can start breeding billions of extra bacteria leading to the onset of bad breath," details Dr Katz.
4. You’re taking birth control
Back in 2015, the American Academy of Periodontology warned that some medications, including the pill, could change the way your body deals with certain bacteria, and in your mouth, that means increased risk of gum disease (and the bad breath that’s associated with it). It’s not a reason to give it up, and you should be able to combat this with a good oral hygiene routine, but it’s worth mentioning to the prescriber of your contraception if you find it sticks around or you have any other related concerns.
"Oral contraceptives designed to increase oestrogen and/or progesterone levels in the body to prevent pregnancy may lead to dry mouth or post-nasal drip, increasing the chances of developing bad breath," says Dr Katz. However, the pill isn’t the only medication that can cause dry mouth and lead to bad breath. "Over 400 other medicines (including some of the most common pain killers and decongestants) can cause the conditions," he notes.
5. You’re overweight
A study conducted in 2007 suggested that the more you weigh, the worse your breath is likely to smell to others. At the time, Professor Mel Rosenberg, who led the research at the time, admitted that he was unsure why this was, but another similar study conducted in 2013 pointed to the possibility of an organism that lives in the gut of overweight people that gives off a distinctive (read: stinky) gas.
More work is still needed to confirm the strength (and reason behind) the correlation, but if you’re worried about your breath and don’t feel healthy at your current weight and height, the two could potentially be connected.
"It’s generally accepted that obesity factors can be linked to several oral health conditions including cavities, periodontal disease and bad breath," Dr Katz agrees. "Overweight people may be grazing on food over extended periods of time. The longer teeth are exposed to sugars and other carbohydrates, the more susceptible they become to developing oral issues that can lead to bad breath."
6. You’re chewing too much gum
A girl just can’t win, right? You spend all that time and jaw effort chomping on a supersize wad of gum, only for it to have the opposite effect - but gum, mints and co sometimes contain hidden sugars, which only serve to feed the bacteria that’s causing your bad breath in the first place.
"Ultimately, all the gum and mints in the world will not stop chronic halitosis and is not a replacement for a robust oral hygiene regimen," says Dr Katz. "Sucking mints or chewing gum does serve as a good occasional short-term fix, but if they contain sugar then they may only eventually worsen the situation. Leaving sugar in the mouth for extended periods of time can lead to an accumulation of sticky plaque on the teeth. This also encourages the growth of bacteria and its effects may be worse than those of dry mouth in the long run."
Sugar-free products can help to avoid this issue (although, as the packet says, excessive consumption may cause laxative effects, so you could end up with a whole other issue to be dealing with). Dr Katz recommends products like The Breath Company Fresh Breath Chewing Gum that are designed to directly fight odours, rather than masking them with unnatural flavourings.
7. You’ve got ‘dry mouth’
No, not just a dry mouth (hey there, hangover) but dry mouth, the actual condition.
"Saliva is nature’s gift to us," Dr Katz advises. "It contains natural anti-microbials that protect us against many of these bacteria. They thrive and multiply in the warm dry recesses of the mouth. Once they have reproduced to such large numbers, even brushing and flossing may not be enough to completely eradicate them. Plus, once these microbes gain strength your immune system uses available sources to fight the invaders, thereby making you weaker to fight another onslaught of microbes, including cold and stomach viruses."
"There are many reasons dry mouth becomes a problem. Sometimes it’s due to age, but it can also be caused by prescription medications, antihistamines, adult beverages, tobacco, coffee, having to do a lot of talking, alcohol-based mouthwash, diet and many other factors."
8. You’ve got a sinus infection
Sinusitis sparks the production of excess mucus that can accumulate in the throat or the back of the nose - and according to Dr Katz, "this can lead to a condition called post-nasal drip, which means that mucus often drains down the throat on to the back of the tongue where anaerobic or ‘bad breath’ bacteria live."
"The mucus coats the bacteria and ‘feeds’ it with amino acids, cysteine and methionine (protein building blocks) leading to the rapid onset of halitosis. It is also worth noting that the use of antihistamines for sinus problems can make a bad breath problem worse as the medicines can dry the sinus area and slow the production of saliva. Less saliva means your body has less capacity to control bad breath-related germs in your mouth which leads to worse breath."
9. You’re diabetic
Very occasionally, your bad breath could be an indicator that there’s something going on that needs addressing by a doctor. There are a number of health conditions that list bad breath as a symptom, including type 1 and 2 diabetes.
“Individuals suffering from type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at risk of developing dry mouth (xerostomia)," Dr Katz confirms. "Abnormal insulin production and/or absorption rates, which occur in diabetes, can cause the salivary glands to not release adequate amounts of saliva and lead to occurrences of dry mouth and bad breath."
"People with diabetes can reduce or eliminate dry mouth and bad breath by carefully checking glucose intake, eating the right foods, taking medication as directed, maintaining a healthy weight, regularly monitoring insulin levels, and following general prevention tips."
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