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4 causes of bad breath – and how to banish it

Say goodbye to bad breath with diligent dental care and a few simple lifestyle changes.

04 October 2010
by Dr Lira Rahman

Do you know what causes bad breath? Cape Town dentist Dr Lira Rahman says, "Bad breath is usually the result of bacteria that create waste material in the mouth. Food particles left behind between the teeth and on the fissures of the tongue become nutrition for bacteria. When these bacteria feed they release sulphur compounds that cause the malodour of bad breath." We pinpoint all the more common causes and outline a prevention plan so you can be sweet-smelling and confident around the clock.

1. Poor oral hygiene 

The problem: If you don’t remove all the food particles from your mouth, bad breath will result. Plaque, tongue fur and mucous in the mouth promote smelly bacteria. "Up to 90 percent of bad odour originates at the back of the tongue," says Dr Rahman. 
Prevention: Dr Rahman recommends brushing your teeth twice daily and flossing. 
The fix: Purchase a tongue-scraper and scrape your tongue to remove the film of bacteria and select an alcohol-free mouthwash like Colgate Plax. "Visit the dentist and oral hygienist every six months – professional cleaning is crucial in preventing bad breath," says Dr Rahman.

2. Dehydration

The problem: Smoking, drinking and mouthbreathing all contribute to dehydration. This slows down the production of the saliva you need for a healthy mouth. "Saliva flow helps clean the mouth and teeth by flushing away debris on which bacteria feed," says Dr Rahman.
Prevention: Drink when you’re thirsty and don’t skip meals. "Be aware that alcohol, certain medications and treatments such as radiation therapy can also dehydrate you," she warns.
The fix: Drink plenty of water and chew sugar-free gum – this helps create saliva. "Over-the counter artificial saliva replacements are available to help with dry mouth syndrome," she says.

3. Pungent foodstuffs 

The problem: Alcohol, protein and foods high in acid (such as coffee and some fruit juices) can affect the balance of bacteria in your mouth and contribute to the problem. Certain foods are harder for the body to break down than others.
Prevention: Avoid beans, garlic and onions which produce the sulphurous gasses that lead to bad breath.
The fix: Chewing on fresh parsley may mask onion breath. Dr Rahman recommends increasing your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables. "Carrots and apples naturally clean your teeth and improve breath," she says.

4. Sickness

The problem: Colds, flu and post-nasal drip can cause bad breath because the excess mucous is a breeding ground for bacteria. Liver problems, cancer and tonsillitis can also lead to bad breath. In addition, some medications such as blood pressure tablets and antibiotics can upset the balance of mouth bacteria.
Prevention: Use a nasal spray such as Similasan Nasal Spray to clear congestion in your nose and throat if you are ill.
The fix: If you have an infection or are taking antibiotics, a probiotic such as Gastrochoice probiotic can help restore balance. See your doctor if you think your bad breath is caused by an underlying condition or your medication.



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