Why you need to treat bad breath (Photo: iStock)

Almost everyone experiences bad breath once in a while but for some people, bad breath (halitosis) is a daily problem. Halitosis affects one in four people, but many of them may not be aware of their own smelly breath and may only come to learn about it from a relative, friend, or co-worker.

Bad oral hygiene

According to Thomas Munyao Junior, a paediatric and orthodontic dentist, this is a common cause. He says that, if one does not brush and floss daily, food particles remain in their mouth.

A sticky film of bacteria (plaque) forms on the teeth and, if not brushed away, it can irritate gums and eventually form plaque-filled products between teeth and gums.

Strong smelling foods

Munyao says all foods begin to be broken down in the mouth, then are absorbed in the bloodstream and move to the lungs.


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"If one eats foods with strong odours like garlic, onions, and spices, this affects breath," he says. And even if one brushes teeth or uses mouthwash, they merely cover up the odour. It will not go away completely until the foods have passed through the body.

Dry mouth

Saliva is necessary to moisten the mouth, neutralise acids produced by plaque and wash away dead cells that accumulate on the tongue, gums and cheeks. However, if not removed, these cells decompose and cause bad breath in addition to a dry mouth.

"The condition may be due to a salivary gland problem or a side effect of various medications. Another cause of dry mouth is continuous breathing through the mouth. That's why people who sleep with their mouths open have worse morning breath," explains Dr Beatrice Mwangi, an ENT, Head and Neck Surgeon at Mbagathi County Hospital.


Dr Mwangi say halitosis can be caused by long-term smoking of tobacco as it reduces the secretion of saliva and changes its quality. This is keeping in mind saliva plays a great role in maintaining oral health and oral hygiene by washing away food particles and bacteria.

According to Dr Mwangi, enzymes and antibodies from the saliva can destroy bacteria in the mouth and on the teeth, meaning if secretion of saliva is not efficient, there will automatically be an odour.

Post-nasal drip

According to a 2012 study published in the International Journal or Oral Science, mucus in the nose helps to filter all foreign particles that you breathe in from the environment. This is absolutely a good thing but what happens when the mucus starts building up in the back of your throat because you have a terrible pollen allergy or a nasty cold? Those foreign particles eventually travel into one's mouth, settle on the surface of the tongue and trigger bad breath.

Digestion problems

Dr Steve Lin, author of the Dental Diet, any condition that allows air from the stomach to move up into the oesophagus and oral cavity may cause halitosis. He adds that bad breath caused by the gut is usually a sign of general imbalance in the digestive system. Some of the digestive causes range from constipation, bloating and gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Dr Munyao observes that having bad breath can be quite embarrassing and can cause problems such as depression, social anxiety, and withdrawal due to fear of what others will say. It is therefore wise for those who have it to seek diagnosis, prevention and treatment options.

Since the main cause of bad breath is poor dental hygiene, The American Dental Association (ADA), recommends brushing twice daily for at least two minutes. Daily flossing is also important because food particles can get stuck in places a toothbrush can't easily reach. Most people forget to clean their tongues. Most toothbrushes have a tongue cleaner, the ridges on the back of the head. Otherwise, a gentle brush with the bristles will do.

Dr Munyao says that chewing a piece of sugar-free gum 1-5 minutes per day after you eat can help freshen up your breath and keep saliva flowing so your mouth can naturally flush out bacteria and food particles.

And if you have dry mouth, ADA advises drinking enough fluids throughout the day and using over-the-counter moisturising agents. In addition to that, get regular oral hygiene checkups after every six months.

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