How do I know if I have bad breath?
Along with farting in a lift and picking your nose in public, having stinky breath is right up there on the official list of social no-nos. Like, *nobody* wants to be the person with breath like a rubbish dump, do they?
Sometimes though it can’t be helped. Whether the tuna sarnie you wolfed down for lunch is to blame, or the fact that you’ve let yourself get super-thirsty, we all have times when our breath could be a little, ahem, fresher. And we all have those up-close-and-personal convos that can leave us feeling really paranoid about the stinky status of our breath. Gah.
So let’s find out what actually causes whiffy breath and what the heck can be done about it. Chewing gum anyone?
What is bad breath?
The official name for bad breath is halitosis and this health condition is defined by a nasty smell coming from the mouth.
“Your mouth is alive with living organisms – bacteria which live and thrive in its warm, dark environment. Bad breath is the result of billions of bad-breath-related bacteria eating leftover proteins in your mouth and converting them to smelly, sulphur based waste. That’s basically it,” says dental expert and ‘the bad breath guru’, Dr Harold Katz.
So what exactly causes it?
A dry mouth: You know when you’re rushing for the bus, with a big coat on and the heaviest bag ever, and you’ve got a mouth as dry as the Sahara desert? Then that’s a typical smelly breath scenario, because a dry mouth provides the perfect environment for bacteria reproduction. Speaking out loud for long periods (like reading in class) and snoring are also a common ways to get a dry mouth and explains killer morning breath – saliva isn’t produced when you sleep meaning you wake with a parched mouth and smelly breath.
Whiffy foods: You know how some foods are just seriously stinky? These can cause bad breath too. Onions and garlic contain smelly sulfur compounds, and dairy, meat and fish contain dense proteins which are used as a food source by sulfur-producing bacteria. Refined and processed sugars also provide a source for mouth bacteria. Coffee and juices can be a problem too because they’re acidic and provide bacteria with an ideal breeding environment.
Poor dental hygiene: Without sounding like your mum here, it’s sooo important to clean your teeth properly, floss often and see the dentist regularly. Bad oral hygiene causes bacterial build up on the teeth and gums and if food isn’t removed by ninja brushing, bacteria develops into dental plaque. When the plaque gathers near the gumline, it will harden and begin destroying teeth and gum tissues. Yikes. This leads to serious gum disease such as gingivitis and periodontitis, which lets proteins from bleeding gums and diseased oral tissue to fuel smelly bacteria. Tooth decay can also cause this problem.
How do I know if my breath stinks?
Here’s the kicker, it’s really difficult to smell your own breath meaning you’re often the last to know if it stinks. Cruel huh?
“You can’t check your breath by blowing into your hand because your senses become used to the smell of your own bad breath. Your body is designed so that you cannot detect your own odour. It’s a process called acclimation which we have developed over centuries of evolution – it helps us to be able to distinguish strange smells quickly without being overwhelmed with our own particular odours. You exhale your own breath constantly so you become accustomed to your own smell,” Dr Katz says.
Having a dry mouth, a thick coating on your tongue and a funny, bitter taste in your mouth can all be signs that your breath is less than fresh, but an obvious sign is your mates backing away or if them constantly offering you chewing gum or mints.
Dr Katz says that a quick way to check if your breath is a bit whiffy is to take the lick test. “Lick the back of your hand. Let that dry for about 10 seconds and then smell it. If you notice an odour, you may have a breath disorder because the sulfur salts from your tongue have been transferred to your hand after the liquid has evaporated,” he suggests.
Bad breath self-help
Preventing bad breath is always way easier than treating it so try and adopt these self-care habits to keep that pongy breath at bay.
Get good dental habits: Brushing and flossing helps to shift food and plaque, so make sure you do it at least twice a day – yes *even* when you’re snuggled in bed watching Netflix and the bathroom seems so far away. If you can also get into the habit of brushing after each time you eat meat, fish or dairy products, you’ll be nailing it.
Have a hydrated mouth: Glug water throughout the day to keep hydrated and prevent a dry mouth by chomping sugar-free chewing gum or mints. Remember, if you’re feeling thirsty you’re probably already dehydrated.
Eat plenty of fruit and veg: Munching on fruit helps moisten the mouth, so have some in your bag to gobble on when you’re hungry. If poss, avoid snacking on sugary foods as much as possible.
Change your breathing: Learning to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth avoids the mouth from drying out during the day. Can you also address any snoring issues that could be affecting your breath and causing a dry mouth in the night?
Use a mouthwash: Some mouthwashes or oral rinses are really good at preventing bacteria and bad breath. Never use alcohol based mouthwashes however – the alcohol makes the mouth very dry, which will actually make the problem worse.
Drink green teas: Yep really. Green tea contains polyphenols that can help eliminate sulfur compounds and reduce bacteria in the mouth. Who knew?