It’s common knowledge that improper brushing and flossing can lead to bad breath, but unsuspecting causes like stress and even the way you sleep at night can determine whether your breath is fresh or foul. “The cause of your bad breath may have nothing to do with how well you care for your smile,” says New York cosmetic dentist Irwin Smigel, DDS. “The source can lie in your hobbies, your habits and what you do day in and day out.” Flip through to learn what’s causing your bad breath and how you can put an end to it for good.
Bad breath comes down to one culprit: bacteria. According to Silver Spring, MD, cosmetic dentist Joseph Kravitz, DDS, There are more than 3,000 species of bacteria in the mouth. In order to survive, they feed off of protein molecules in the saliva, food particles and dead cells on the tongue. In doing so, a byproduct, volatile sulfur compounds, is released, which emit an odor. “These compounds can smell fishy, like rotten eggs,” says Atlanta cosmetic dentist Ronald Goldstein, DDS. “However, the key to curing bad breath is to figure out what’s causing the influx of bacteria and treat the problem, not just the symptoms. This may be tricky as some bacteria result from causes you’d least expect.”
Sleeping on Your Back
The position your head is angled when you sleep at night can affect how your breath smells in the morning. Sleeping on your back, for example, forces gravity to pull the jaw downward, causing you to breathe through your mouth, rather than your nose. When this happens, saliva production is slowed. “Saliva is the natural cleanser in the mouth that rinses away the bad bacteria,” says Dr. Smigel, who points out that saliva production, which naturally slows while sleeping, is at its lowest when you breathe through your mouth. “If you sleep on your back, you swallow less, which is why I tell patients they should sleep in a position where the tongue doesn’t have a chance to revert backward and cause the mouth to open—like on your stomach or side.”
Solution: During a routine dental visit, your dentist can take molds of your teeth to create a custom mouth guard. These plastic trays, which are commonly used to cure involuntary tooth grinding, slip over your teeth and prevent you from sleeping with your mouth open by repositioning the jaw and tongue. “Mouth guards can help mouth breathers only if there isn’t an underlying sinus problem,” warns Joliet, IL, cosmetic dentist Gabriella M. Paolucci, DDS. “For example, if a patient has a deviated septum, where literally no air can travel through the nasal passage, then a night guard would possibly close the person’s only viable option for breathing.”
Drinking More Than Three Cups of Coffee a Day
Besides discoloring your smile, coffee is a diuretic, which dehydrates both the body and mouth. The drier the mouth is, the easier it is for odorous bacteria to multiply and invade the teeth, gums and tongue since there’s no saliva there to flush it away. “Coffee tastes wonderful, and the caffeine kick is needed globally, but beware,” says New York cosmetic dentist Jason S. Kasarsky, DDS, reasoning that reaching for an extra cup of Joe may be what’s behind your bad breath due to its drying effect. In addition, coffee releases gas in the intestinal track during digestion, which then travels to the lungs and is exhaled upon breathing— further giving way to the dreaded daily “grind” of “coffee breath.”
Solution: To limit the bad breath effects of coffee, try cutting down on how much you drink daily. And, following each sip of coffee, follow witha sip of water—the high acid levels of coffee can also promote the growth of bacteria and lead to oral odor. “Bad breath can start within just seven minutes from the time you eat or drink anything other than water because that’s how long it takes for acids to start causing dental disease,” says Dr. Kravitz. “Drinking coffee is like bathing your mouth in acids; the remedy is to rinse your mouth with water for seven seconds to buffer the acids.”
Skimping on Carbs
Got a carb craving? Think twice before you say no to it—carbs may be just what you need to attain fresher breath. When the body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to burn for energy, it switches to “starvation mode” and relies on stored fat for fuel. This metabolic process, known as ketosis, increases acidity in the blood. As the body tries to stabilize itself, it releases waste products known as ketones, which are carried by the blood to the lungs and then excreted via the mouth as an odor similar to stale, decomposed food.
Solution: The key to keeping bad breath at bay is to prevent the body from metabolizing stored energy reserves. To do so, it’s important to eat carbohydrates every few hours so your body doesn’t think it is fasting. “Eating regularly definitely aids in the prevention of ketosis,” says Dr. Paolucci. It’s also important to keep in mind that not all starches are bad for you. Some are low in fat and rich in fiber and nutrients to help combat bad breath.
Not Having Braces as a Kid
Gaps in the smile create nooks between the teeth that trap food particles. Bacteria then consume the proteins in your “leftovers” for energy, creating a sulfur-stricken environment that is very hard to treat. “Most people have no idea of the tiny food particles nestled in the crevices of their teeth because the food particles aren’t large enough that you’d feel them,” says Dr. Goldstein. “As a result, they continue to multiply, making your breath smell worse and worse.”
Solution: It’s never too late to close up spaces that serve as a breeding ground for bad breath bacteria. Invisalign, clear plastic trays that sequentially align the teeth, is a great way to eliminate minor gaps. “Each tray puts force on the teeth, causing them to move in the desired direction, picking up where the one before it left off,” says Malibu and Simi Valley, CA, cosmetic dentist Bob S. Perkins, DDS.
Not Giving Your Gums Enough TLC
Most of us invest a great deal of time caring for our skin, but we sometimes fail to devote the same attention to our gums, which like the skin, need hydration and exfoliation to stay clean. When your gums aren’t flossed at least twice a day, they can become inflamed. Besides looking puffy and red, gums that aren’t regularly flossed begin to emit a foul odor, signaling an impending infection.
Solution: An in-office procedure, in which your dentist or hygienist scrapes away hardened bacteria below the gumline, root planing is a solution for those who have accumulated bacteria at the root of the tooth. Your dentist or hygienist will use a hand-held instrument to irrigate the area and remove plaque deposits. Its metal tip vibrates and floods the area with water (and sometimes medicine) at a high-intensity, allowing deep deposits of bacteria to be cleaned out and soothe inflamed gums. The procedure is performed in less than an hour and requires only local anesthesia, with next to no recovery time.
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