Norhayati Liaqat Ali Khan Lecturer, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM)
Halitosis is simply defined as bad breath or oral malodour. The word is derived from the combination of Latin words halitus (breathed air) and osis (pathologic alteration).
This is a common condition that affects 30% of people worldwide. People with this condition may suffer from low self-confidence, causing them to curb their social life or isolate themselves from friends and family members. It can also affect the person’s relationships and interactions with other people.
Do you have bad breath?
Most people are not aware that they have bad breath, until someone tells them (hopefully, politely) or they notice people behaving strangely around them when they talk. If you wonder whether you have bad breath, do any of these simple tests to find out.
- Wrist test. Lick your wrist and leave it to dry for a minute and sniff it. If you have bad breath, there will be a strong smell, thanks to the sulphur salts transferred from your tongue to your skin.
- Spoon test. Turn a stainless steel spoon upside down and use the concave side (the side which holds the food) to scrap the surface of your tongue. Now, sniff the spoon. If you have bad breath, the spoon will smell bad and there is a whitish coating.
Why does your breath smell bad?
There are several possible causes of halitosis:
- Poor oral hygiene promotes bacterial growth between teeth, around the gums and tongue lead to bad breath. About 80-90% of halitosis cases are caused by caries formation and yeast infection, often the result of infrequent tooth brushing, flossing or, if you use them, denture cleaning.
- Underlying health problem(s). It could be a sign of a more serious health problem eg, respiratory tract infection, diabetes mellitus, dry mouth, gum disease, chronic sinus infection or problems affecting the digestive tract, liver or kidney.
- Dietary choices and habits. How and what you eat can contribute to halitosis. Foods with strong flavours and odours (garlic, onions, spices, etc) will be digested, subsequently absorbed into the bloodstream, and carried to the lungs, thus affecting your breath. Crash diets, fasting, low carbohydrate intake, and coffee drinking can also be possible causes.
- Unhealthy lifestyle eg, smoking, alcohol drinking, and various socio-demographic factors.
- Medication. Although this is not common, some type of medication may lead to halitosis by causing dry mouth, a condition in which salivary glands in the mouth do not produce enough saliva. Saliva is important because it neutralizes acids produced by plaque, and washes away dead cells that accumulate on the tongue, gums and cheeks. Its absence or decreased level will lead to the decay of these dead cells, leading to bad breath. Some examples of medications that can cause dry mouth are chloral hydrate, nitrites and nitrates (for angina/chest pain), dimethyl sulfoxide, some chemotherapy medicines, and phenothiazines (tranquillizers).
- “Halitosis is due to the presence of odorous and bad tasting compounds known as volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs) created by bacteria by breaking down food debris in mouth”.
Say goodbye to bad breath
There are some simple but effective solutions which can be found in your own kitchen.
- Salt and water. Gargling your mouth with salt and water is the simplest way to reduce bad breath.
- Clove. Simply boil three to five of them in water or soak them in a glass of hot water for about 5 minutes. Once it is cooled, use it to gargle twice a day.
- Star anise. Take about three and prepare them in the method described above. The liquid can be drank or used for gargling twice a day, in the morning and evening. You can also chew on star anise directly, but beware: it has a liquorice-like taste that you will either love or hate!
- Cinnamon. Just chew a small portion every night before bed. Swallow the juices and spit out the chewed up pieces. If you do this daily, you can reduce almost 50% of the bacteria, which causes bad breath.
- Tamarind and palm sugar. Mix a little of both with hot water, and drink every night before going to bed.