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Bad Breath


Halitosis or bad breath is a very common and a treatable problem but causes a lot of embarrassment in everyday life.


Bad breath is caused by numerous factors present in the body. Starting from the mouth, when ever food particles stick between teeth and on the gums and are not cleaned by brushing and flossing, they can rot. These rotten food particles cause foul smell leading to bad breath.

The bacteria growing out of these food particles can give rise to gum diseases too. A warning sign to be noticed in gum problems is a resistant bad breath or bad taste in the mouth.

Certain things that we eat and drink does affect our breath. Foods like garlic, onions, soda, cheese, certain juices and spices contribute to bad breath.

Once the food is absorbed in the blood stream they reach the lungs and are expelled, which gets mixed with our breath and gives bad odour.

Chronic lung infection, liver or kidney diseases and diabetes are too certain conditions that cause bad breath.

Another cause is dry mouth which occurs when salivary flow decreases or ceases. As this condition sets in, the bacteria does not get washed away or dislodged from crevices or spaces between the teeth by salivary flow and lead to bad breath.

Tobacco, alcohol and related products too cause bad breath. In short, gum diseases, dental decay, dry mouth, food enlodgement, improper oral hygiene, tonsil infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, liver disease, chronic living infections, carcinomas, diabetes, kidney diseases, gastritis and acid reflux, tobacco, alcohol and related products are causes for bad breath.


Self evaluation of halitosis is not an easy and a confirmative procedure. The simplest and effective way to assess ones breath is by asking a family member or a friend. A popular method used is to lick the back of the wrist, let the saliva dry and then smell for the result. Another method is to scrape the posterior most portion of the tongue and to smell the dried residue. If the complaint of halitosis is persistent even after ruling out other dental and medical factors then specialised testing is required like:

  • Halimeter is an analog device used to measure the level of sulphur in the breath, especially hydrogen sulphide. Some sulphides such as hydrogen sulphide and methyl mercaptan also known as ‘VSC’ are known to be the causative agents of bad breath. Compounds such as alcohol and essential oils which are commonly found in mouth washes can give false readings. Certain foods such as garlic and onions produce sulphur in the breath for as long as 48 hours and can give false readings too. 
  • Gas chromatography machine digitally measure the levels of major VSC’s in a sample of mouth air. It gives an accurate measure of sulphur. Components in the breath and via computer Interface results can be seen in a graphical form. 
  • BANA test is conducted to assess the levels of certain halitosis related bacteria levels in the saliva. 
  • B-galactosidase test is conducted to assess the levels of this enzyme which is found to be related to bad breath.


  • Maintaining optimal oral and dental hygiene like cleaning the tongue, brushing and flossing daily and visiting dentist periodically. Flossing removes the food debris and the bacterial plaque in between the teeth and removable prosthesis like dentures should be cleaned and soaked in antibacterial solution. 
  • Cleaning the tongue surface is the most effective way to keep bad breath away by using a tongue cleaner or scraper effectively. 
  • Use of antibacterial mouth wash recommended by a dentist, used before bed time has shown to be effective in controlling halitosis. 
  • Maintaining correct water levels in the body by drinking several glasses of water a day and avoiding excess of coffee and alcohol. 
  • Eating fresh fruits and fibrous vegetables helps clean the rear portion of the tongue. 
  • Chewing gum (sugar free) helps in the production of salvia and thereby facilitate reduction of bad breath caused by dry mouth which increases bacterial build up. As saliva has anti-bacterial properties, they wash away the oral bacteria and due to the mechanical activity helps clean the mouth.

Mouth washes contain certain anti-bacterial agents like Chlorhexidine, Zinc glucoate, Chlorine dioxide, Cetylpyridinium chloride and essential oils. Avoid using mouth washes containing alcohol as they may worsen the problem


  1. Dr. Sachin Arora, Defeat Dental Problems, 2010, 132p

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