The global breath mint market expects to exceed $8.5 billion within the next few years. It’s safe to say that those sales indicate a lot of folks realize they have a less than delightful smell coming out of their mouths.
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So, what’s behind bad breath — and could an extreme stink be a sign of a larger health issue that deserves more attention than a wintergreen mint?
Let’s find out from dentist Karyn Kahn, DDS.
Bad breath basics
It’s no secret that brushing your teeth twice a day serves as a baseline for good oral hygiene. Not a quick scrub-a-dub, either. Two minutes of solid brushing in the morning and at night is the gold standard.
Add in daily flossing to remove plaque and food bits hidden in hard-to-reach places and you’ve got a routine worth … well, smiling about. (Show those teeth!)
But not everyone follows a gold standard routine. That’s where problems can start.
“If you’re not fully cleaning your mouth and removing food particles, byproducts of bacteria left around your teeth and gum line can produce a sulfur-like odor and bad breath,” explains Dr. Kahn.
Certain foods — such as garlic, onions and other pungent delights — can quickly give your mouth a not-so-fresh scent, too. Ditto for tobacco products and alcohol.
Causes of chronic bad breath
But what if you’re doing everything right with dental care and still puffing out stinky breath? “Then, it’s time to talk to your dentist or physician to see what may be contributing to the bad breath,” says Dr. Kahn.
The answer may be one of these:
A tooth abscess brings a pocket of pus — and that is NOT a pleasantly aromatic addition to your mouth. The infection can develop in your gums, at the tip of a tooth root or in the bone and tissues around your chompers.
Some abscesses may not come with a lot of pain. In those cases, chronic bad breath could be one of the first indicators of an issue.
“A draining infection can lead to bad breath,” states Dr. Kahn. “So, if you suddenly have bad breath and can’t seem to get it under control, it’s a good idea to get your teeth checked by your dentist or schedule an appointment to rule out any sources of infection or tissue pathology.”
Left untreated, the infection from an abscessed tooth can spread to your jawbone and even travel to your heart and brain.
Sinuses produce mucus that drains out your nose and offers protection from bacteria and allergens. It’s a frontline job when it comes to facing germs.
Sometimes, that icky stuff gets the upper hand and leads to a sinus infection (sinusitis). That can put mucus production into overdrive and send a river of thick yellow or green slime down your nose and throat.
“Sinus infections can drain into a common area of the throat and be brought up into your mouth, causing bad breath,” explains Dr. Kahn.
Over-the-counter cold and allergy medications and nasal saline rinses can help clear up a sinus infection. If symptoms don’t improve within a week or so, a healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics.
Heartburn sends stomach acid on a wrong-way trip up through your esophagus and into your mouth. This backwash can leave a sour taste in your mouth and put a nasty tinge on your breath.
That’s a reality that nearly 784 million people around the world know all too well.
The condition of your teeth may offer clues if heartburn is the cause of your foul breath. The reason? Stomach acid can eat away at the protective enamel on your teeth. (Frequent vomiting can bring the same result.)
“So, if you have bad breath, have your dentist check to see if there is any evidence of acid erosion in your mouth,” recommends Dr. Kahn.
Confirmation of acid reflux can lead to treatment to minimize the issue.
Bad breath may be a sign of diabetes or a complication from the condition, says Dr. Kahn.
Elevated blood sugar (glucose) levels in your mouth can boost bacteria growth and the bad breath that follows. Higher blood sugar also can damage blood vessels, weakening your gums and teeth and leaving them more vulnerable to periodontal disease.
Keeping blood sugar levels at targeted levels and practicing good oral hygiene can limit bad breath from diabetes.
When to see a doctor for chronic bad breath
If a poop-like, sour or just plain bad smelling breath lingers despite good oral hygiene habits, make an appointment with a dentist, advises Dr. Kahn. They can look for potential causes you can’t see, like tooth decay or hidden abscesses.
“If you’re cleared from a dental perspective, then it’s time to see a physician to find out if there’s some other underlying cause,” she adds.
In other words, look for answers before you just look to use more breath mints.