We’re all familiar with bad breath in one form or another. That morning breath after a night of too much booze, or the strong smell you can’t seem to shift after a garlicky pasta dish or spicy curry.
But for some of us, bad breath, also known as halitosis, can be a life-long condition that leaves us feeling embarrassed.
It can also threaten your lovelife and your sexlife (you might have been able to get away with it in lockdown Zoom chats, but it's harder to hide in person).
Here, Anna Middleton, founder of London Hygienist, has developed 11 reasons why you might have stinky breath – and how to combat it…
1. Gum Disease
Most adults in the UK have gum disease to some degree. Signs are bleeding gums when you brush your teeth, bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth. Gum disease is caused by the build-up of plaque on the teeth and gums.
Bacteria on the plaque cause toxins to form, which irritate the gums. The early stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis. If it’s not treated, a condition called periodontitis can develop. This affects the tissues that hold teeth in place.
If periodontitis is not treated, the bone in your jaw may be damaged and your teeth can become loose and may eventually fall out.
What to do? Visit your hygienist for a clean and tailored oral hygiene plan to suit your needs.
2. Not Enough Water
Dehydration can cause pongy breath because bacteria that live in the mouth tend to multiply as the mouth dries out. This leads to a decrease in saliva which acts as a buffer for the mouth.
Drinking water can reduce bad breath as you rinse away food particles in between your routine brushing.
What to do? Always keep a reusable water bottle with you and aim to drink 2 litres per day.
In stressful times, you may be too preoccupied to eat well or drink enough water, which can lead to dry mouth and smelly breath. You may also breathe through your mouth rather than nose, another cause of dry mouth. And there is a link between stress and gum disease.
What to do? Stay hydrated and manage stress with yoga and breathing exercises.
4. Low-carb diets
When you cut down on carbs and up your protein intake the body is primarily running on fat stores and your body breaks down fat for energy, creating ketones. One of these is acetone which can make your breath smell like nail varnish remover.
What to do? Talk to a nutritionist about your diet or see your GP.
When we’re asleep, our saliva production decreases, the mouth becomes drier and we get ‘morning breath’. If you snore, you may have severe drying of the mouth because of breathing through the mouth and not the nose.
What to do? Look out for anti-snoring devices in the pharmacy and ask you GP for advice.
Coffee has a very strong odour but it is the caffeine in coffee that can cause bad breath. It dries out the mouth which allows bacteria to thrive.
The bacteria then cling to your tongue, gums, teeth and the inside of your cheeks, which can lead to bad breath. It is also possible that if you have dairy milk in your coffee the problem may worsen, as dairy milk encourages bacteria growth.
What to do? Opt for tea or drink water after coffee and use sugar-free mints/gum.
When a person has diabetes, their body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use insulin effectively. Insulin helps break down glucose to provide energy.
If the body can’t get its energy from glucose, it starts burning fat instead, producing ketones, which can make your breath smell. High blood sugar levels also increase glucose in saliva, providing food for bacteria in the mouth.
What to do? Seek guidance from your GP.
There is an array of medications that can cause a dry mouth, which contributes to bad breath. These include blood pressure medications, antidepressants, sleeping tablets, diuretics and antihistamines.
Check your medication leaflet to see if ‘dry mouth’ is a side effect or consult with your GP. You may need to increase your water intake to combat dry mouth.
What to do? Stay hydrated and see your GP.
Tobacco causes its own type of bad breath in addition to staining, loss of taste and gum irritation. People who smoke are more likely to suffer from gum disease and have a greater risk of developing cancer.
What to do? Seek advice to quit.
10. Skipping Meals
Not eating regularly can have a negative impact on the freshness of your breath. A lack of food and fluid slows down saliva production, which contributes to bacterial growth in the mouth.
What to do? Stay hydrated and don’t skip meals.
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it dehydrates you and dries out your mouth. A reduction in saliva limits the ability of your mouth to self-clean, causing bacteria to thrive.
Alcohol can also trigger acid reflux, which causes stomach acid to creep up into the throat, and that acid has an odour.
What to do? Try not to exceed the weekly amount of recommended alcohol units, which is 14 for both men and women.