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Bad breath? Let’s see what causes it

Bad breath is a common health problem which greately affects the day to day activities of so many people. The offensive odor from the mouth is unpleasant to those who come in close contact with bad breathers. The problem will be doubled by psychological trauma leading to depression. The sufferers from this problem will be isolated from the society. This can even lead to marital disharmony.

Literally speaking all human beings are bad breathres. Oral cavity contains millions of anaerobic bacteria like fusobacterium and actinomyces which acts on the protein of food materials and putrefies them. This process results in the formation of offenssive gases like hydrogen sulphide, methyl mescaptan, cadaverin, skatol, putrescine, causing bad odor. If oral hygiene is not maintained properly all will suffer from bad breath. Most of us control this by regular brushing, tongue cleaning and gargling. Even after maintaining cleanliness in the mouth some individuals suffer from offenssive smell due to various causes which has to be diagnosed and treated properly.

Here are some common causes of bad breath.

1) Poor oral hygiene

If oral hygiene is not maintained properly the mouth becomes the seat for millions of bacteria which produce offenssive gases by degrading the food debris. Bad breath is severe in those who don’t brush their teeth regularly and clean their mouth after every food. Snacks taken in between meals can also produce bad breath because of improper cleaning.

Bad breath is common in almost all people in the morning on waking. During sleep there is less production of saliva. Saliva has got some antibacterial properties which help to keep the mouth clean. Saliva contains oxygen molecules which is needed to make oral cavity aerobic. So the reduction in its quantity during sleep makes a favourable condition for anaerobic bacteria.

2) Food habits

The main cause of bad smell is due to degradation of protein by the bacteria and hence all food products rich in protein favours bad breath. Meat, fish, milk products, eggs, cakes, nuts, pear and others can cause bad breath. Some food articles can produce particular type of smell which may be unpleasant. Raw onion can produce typical bad smell. It is said that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, a raw onion a day keeps everybody away. Eating groundnuts can also produce bad smell. However if proper cleaning is done smell can be reduced irrespective of the nature of food. Irregularity in timing of food can also produce bad breath. The same from small food articles taken in between the meals.

3) Biofilm

There is also the formation of a thin sticky coating called biofilm on the tongue and oral mucosa. This coating is thick on the posterior aspect of the tongue where millions of gram negative bacteria are seen. The thick coating on the tongue is always associated with bad breath. Even a thin biofilm can make anaerobic condition favourable for bacterial proliferation.

4) Dental caries

This is a destructive process causing decalcification with destruction of enamel and dentine resulting in cavitisation of the tooth. These are produced mainly by the lactobacilli. Food particles are deposited inside these cavities and are putrefied by the anaerobic bacteria producing bad smell. Normal brushing will not remove the food debris easily and hence they get putrified completely. Caries are common in schoolgoing children and in those who don’t maintain proper oral hygiene. Calcium and vitamin deficiency can also predispose caries.

5) Gingivitis

Gum is a mucus membrane with supporting connective tissue covering the tooth bearing borders of the jaw. The main function of the gum is protection. Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gum. Due to various causes the gum tissue get infected resulting in swelling, pain and discharge. If the condition becomes worse the infection spread towards peridontal area leading to continuous discharge called pyorrhoea. Some times the infection goes deep producing alveolar abscess with discharge of pus. Infection can even reach the bone causing osteomyelitis. All these conditions can produce offenssive smell.

6) Gum retraction

When the gums retract from the teeth a gap is developed which will lodge food particles and cause bad breath.

7) Dental plaques and tartar deposits

Plaques and tartar are deposited mainly in the gaps between the teeth and the gum. This will provide shelter for the food debris and bacteria causing bad breath.

8) Ulcerative lesions & coatings

Almost all ulcerative lesions of the mouth are associated with bad breath. These lesions may be caused by bacteria, viruses, food allergies or due to autoimmune disorders. Apthous ulcer is the commonest amoung ulcerative lesions. Others are herpes, fungal infections, vincents angina, infectious mononucleosis, scarlet fever, diphtheria, drug reactions to name the most important. Cancerous ulcers produce severe bad breath. All fungal infections produce white coating (candidiasis). Leucoplakia is a white thick patch on the mucus membrane of the mouth & tongue. It is considered as a precancerous condition. Offenssive breath is associated with these conditions.

9) Diseases of the salivary glands

Saliva is very useful to supply oxygen to all parts of the oral cavity. Even a thin film of coating called biofilm can provide an anaerobic condition in the mouth. Saliva can wet these layers and make an aerobic condition which is unfavourable for the bacteria. Any condition which reduces the production of saliva can increase bacterial activity. Some times the salivary duct is obstructed by stones or tumors. Cancer of the salivary gland is associated with offenssive odor. In suppurative parotitis purulent discharge into the mouth causes bad breath.

10) Tonsillitis

Tonsils are a pair of lymphoid tissue situated in the lateral wall of oropharynx. Inflammation of the tonsil is called tonsillitis. Bad breath is seen in both acute and chronic tonsillitis. Quinsy or peritonsillar abscess can also produce bad breath.

11) Tonsillar plaques & tonsillar fluid

If bad breath persists even after maintaining proper oral hygeine there is possibility of this condition. Serous fluid secreated from the folds of tonsil is very offenssive. Some patients complain that they hawk some cheesy materials from the throat; which are very offenssive in nature. These are formed inside the tonsillar crypts which contain thousands of bacteria. In such conditions tonsillectomy gives noticeable relief from bad breath.

12) Pharyngitis & pharyngial abscess

Pharynx is a fibromuscular tube which forms the upper part of the digestive & respiratory tract. Inflammation of the pharynx is called pharyngitis, caused mainly by bacteria and viruses. Bad breath is present in pharyngitis along with other signs like cough and throat irritation. Abscesses in the wall of pharynx can also produce offensive discharge of pus into the throat.

13) Dentures

Denture users may complain about bad smell due to lodgement of small food debris in between. Proper brushing may not be possible in denture users especially fixed dentures.

14) Tobacco

Tobacco chewing is also associated with bad breath. The smell of tobacco itself is unpleasant for some people. Tobacco can irritate the mucus membrane and cause ulcers and coatings. Gingivitis and pyorrhoea are common in tobacco chewers. Tartar is deposited on the teeth mainly near the gums. Tobacco chewers get gastric acidity with eructations. All these causes offensive smell.

15) Smoking

Smokers always have bad smell. It can also produce lesions in the mouth & lungs causing bad breath. Smoking increases carbon dioxide in the oral cavity & reduces oxygen level, causing a favourable condition for bacteria. Smoking reduces appetite & thirst hence acid peptic disease is common with smokers.

16) Lesions in the nose & ear

Bad breath is occasionally seen in sinusitis (infection of para nasal sinuses). In case of post nasal dripping bad breath is common due to the presence of protein in the discharges. These proteins are degraded by the bacteria. Infection in the middle ear with discharge of pus into the throat through the eustachian tube (passage from middle ear to the throat) can also cause offensive odor. Chronic rhinitis (infection of mucus membrane of nose) and foreign bodies in the nose can also produce bad smell in the expired air.

17) Diabetes mellitus

Mostly all diabetic patients suffer from bad breath. Coated tongue, ulcers & coatings in the mouth, increased sugar level in tissues are responsible for bad breath. Bacterial growth in diabetic patient is faster than in non diabetic individuals.

18) Fevers

Bad breath is common in almost all fevers. Even an acute fever can produce bad breath. Severe bad breath is seen in typhoid. Other infectious diseases like Tuberculosis, AIDS etc produce bad smell.

19) Fasting & dehydration

Dry mouth favours bacterial activity. So any condition which produce dryness in the mouth makes the breath offensive. Even though the food particles are known to produce bad breath, fasting can also produce the same. Production of saliva is also reduced during fasting. Chewing and swallowing also helps to keep the mouth clean.

20) Bedridden patients

Bedridden patients suffer from offensive breath due to thick coating on the tongue. water intake is also limited in these patients. Regurgitation of food aggravates the condition. Since they talk less, aeration in the oral cavity is reduced which favours anaerobic bacteria to become active.

21) Diseases of stomach & esophagus

Eructation of gas and food produce unpleasant smell. Abnormality in the function of lower sphincter can allow the food to regurgitate upwards causing bad breath. Bad breath is also common in gastritis, gastric ulcer and cancer of stomach.

22) Intestinal diseases

Bad breath is common in patients suffering from ulcerative lesions of intestine like ulcerative collitis. Other diseases are malabsorption syndrome intestinal tuberculosis, peritonitis ect.

23) Diseases of lungs

Lung diseases like pneumonia, lung abscess, chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis, tuberculosis, lung cancer can produce bad odor during expiration.

24) Liver disorders

Liver diseases like hepatitis, cirrhosis, can cause bad breath. Gall bladder diseases with vomiting also causes unpleasent odor.

25) Psychiatric patients

Bad breath is common in psychotic patients due to poor hygiene, irregular food habits and less water intake.

26) Somatisation disorder

This is a psychiatric disorder characterized by the presence of a physical symptom that suggest a medical illness. These patients come with physical complaints like pain, nausea difficult respiration, bad smell etc. This condition is diagnosed after detailed examination of the patient with all investigations. Since this is a psychiatric disorder it has to be managed with a psychological approach.

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