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Dental Problems and Bad Breath

©iStockphoto.com/RonBailey
©iStockphoto.com/RonBailey
If you don't get to the bottom of your bad breath problems, it can put a damper on all your social interactions.

Nothing can get you the wrong kind of attention quite like bad breath. It won't matter how sensible your business proposal, how romantic your words or how accurate your dinner order is. If the person on the other end of the exchange is utterly revolted by the odor coming from your mouth, he or she won't be able to think of much else. Worse yet: You may be completely unaware that your breath is having professional and personal repercussions.

Once you realize your breath has gone rogue on you, you need to figure out why. Bad breath can be caused by any number of things -- some of which seem far removed from your mouth. Approximately one out of 10 cases of bad breath is attributable to some non-mouth-related health problem, possibly one of the following [source: Mayo Clinic]:

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  • Diabetes
  • Liver problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Respiratory tract issues

Of course, your diet can lead to bad breath, too. Foods like onions and garlic work their way into your bloodstream. As that blood is processed and oxygenated by the lungs, the lungs expel the odor when you exhale. It's possible to mask breath caused by food, but the problem won't completely clear until all the offending food traces have been metabolically cleared from your blood, one stinky breath at a time.

Food that doesn't make it to the bloodstream can also cause problems. When stuck between your teeth, food promotes bacteria growth. Bacteria interaction with food in your mouth will produce volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs), which collect on the tongue and cause bad breath. Brushing your tongue or using a tongue scraper to eliminate the VSCs may do wonders to help in these situations.

However, when bacteria go beyond your tongue to cause problems with your teeth and gums, getting rid of bad breath might not be quite so simple. Read on to learn more.

If you've been avoiding a trip to the dentist out of fear of getting bad news about the state of your teeth, stop putting it off. Not only can allowing too much time to pass between dental visits further dental problems such as tooth or gum decay, it can also lead to really bad breath.

As you learned on the previous page, bacteria in your mouth cause bad breath by breaking down food left stuck in your teeth. But as bacteria use sugar in your mouth to provide the energy needed to grow and multiply, they produce acid as a waste product [source: Loesche]. The acid lowers the pH level of a tooth's exterior, causing the enamel to dissolve.

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Left unchecked, the situation can create a hole in the enamel -- this is your cavity. Without dental intervention, the cavity will worsen. As the tissue inside the tooth continues to decay, the decomposing protein produces foul-smelling gases (such as hydrogen sulfide), and your breath worsens. At that point, the only way to clear up your breath for good is to have the decaying, offending matter removed and the cavity filled.

Gum disease is also frequently to blame for bad breath. In fact, bad breath is a warning sign for gum disease [source: British Dental Health Foundation]. This issue occurs initially as a result of plaque buildup on the teeth. Bacteria in the plaque irritate the gums and cause them to become tender, swollen and prone to bleeding. Foul-smelling gases emitted by the bacteria can also cause bad breath. Eventually, pockets may form between the teeth and gums, and these can become infected, ultimately leading to tooth loss. If you pay attention when you notice that bacteria-induced bad breath, though, you could catch gum disease before it gets to its more advanced stages.

Of course, to help keep your breath in check and to maintain good hygiene when it comes to your teeth and gums, you'll also need to visit your dentist twice a year. Don't be afraid to ask your dentist about your breath -- in fact, your dentist may be the only person you know who will speak truthfully on the matter. In addition to regular checkups, brush your teeth after every meal and before you go to bed to prevent a sugar-fueled explosion of bacteria and harmful acid. If you floss daily, as well, conditions in your mouth should be ideal for good breath.

©iStockphoto.com/maciu17
©iStockphoto.com/maciu17
An impacted wisdom tooth, like the one shown on this X-ray, can lead to all kinds of problems, including bad breath.

If you still have your wisdom teeth, they could be the cause of bad breath, too.

Most of us will need to have our wisdom teeth removed at some point in our lives. Usually, it happens shortly after they've emerged as our last set of molars, often between the ages of 18 and 25. Wisdom teeth usually crowd your other teeth, and cause problems with their alignment. If your wisdom teeth are slanted toward your other teeth, it can actually cause surface damage to those other teeth.

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Many times, wisdom teeth don't fully emerge from the gums, a condition known as "impacted" wisdom teeth. A wisdom tooth still partially submerged below the gums might be contributing to bacterial overgrowth -- and consequently, bad breath -- due to the small pocket of air between the tooth crown and the gum. The gums around the impacted wisdom tooth are sensitive and tend to get infected easily, and the bacteria infecting the wound release smelly sulfur compounds. This can be treated for a while with antibiotics or by cleaning and irrigating the gums around the wisdom teeth with hydrogen peroxide. Eventually, though, to avoid worsening problems -- and worsening breath -- you'll need to have troubled wisdom teeth removed.

But you're not out of the woods yet. Getting wisdom teeth removed can also cause bad breath. But consider it a short-term sacrifice for long-term breath improvement. When your wisdom teeth are pulled, a blood clot forms in the empty socket. If this is dislodged, it causes a condition known as dry socket, in which bacteria can enter the open wound, causing an infection and potentially bad breath, too.

Your dentist may need to clean the socket and assist in its healing through the use of antibiotics and medicated creams. Though the pain should go away with treatment, the dry socket itself may take several weeks to heal [source: De Vizio]. Bad breath is pretty common for several days after a wisdom tooth has been removed, but if it persists, you need to let your dentist know. To learn lots more information about dental problems and bad breath, read on to the next page.

Related Articles

Sources

  • American Dental Association. "Bad Breath (Halitosis)." (Nov. 28, 2011) http://www.ada.org/2941.aspx
  • British Dental Health Foundation. "Bad Breath." 2010. (Dec. 8, 2011) http://www.dentalhealth.org/tell-me-about/topic/sundry/bad-breath
  • De Vizio, William, D.M.D. "How long does dry socket last?" (Dec. 19, 2011) http://www.sharecare.com/question/how-long-dry-socket-last
  • Katz, Harold, D.D.S. "A prime sign of gum disease? Bad breath." (Dec. 8, 2011) http://www.therabreath.com/articles/blog/A-prime-sign-of-gum-disease-Bad-breath-4313.asp
  • Loesche, Walter. "Oral Malodor." (Nov. 28, 2011) http://www.dent.umich.edu/media/research/loeschelabs/
  • Mayo Clinic. "Bad Breath." June 19, 2010. (Nov. 28, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bad-breath/DS00025
  • Rosenberg, Mel, Ph.D. "Bad Breath (Halitosis)." July 1996. (Nov. 28, 2011) http://www.dent.umich.edu/media/research/loeschelabs/
  • Spiller, Martin S., D.M.D. "Bad Breath." (Nov. 28, 2011) http://www.doctorspiller.com/halitosis.htm
  • Tonn, Elverne M., D.D.S. "Bad Breath." Feb. 8, 2009. (Dec. 8, 2011) http://www.medicinenet.com/bad_breath/article.htm
  • Williams, Darren R., D.D.S. "Dental Health and Wisdom Teeth." March 15, 2009. http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/wisdom-teeth
  • Wyatt, Alfred D., Jr., D.M.D. "Dry Socket." March 6, 2011. (Nov. 28, 2011) http://www.medicinenet.com/dry_socket/article.htm

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