Fresh or foul?
You’re talking to someone (perhaps a customer) and you can smell their rancid breath from a metre away – not pleasant. And also rather awkward. Short of trying to discreetly cover your nose while talking to them, it’s hard to disguise how off-putting halitosis (bad breath) can be.
In fairness, we’ve all had bad breath at some point (morning breath for starters!), particularly after eating certain foods like onion, or drinking coffee. But halitosis is actually caused by sulphur-producing bacteria that live on the surface of the throat and tongue. When these bacteria start to break down proteins at a very high rate, they release odorous volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs). Just under 3% of adults suffer from bad breath.
Apart from the obvious unpleasant odour, other symptoms of halitosis include having a dry mouth, thick saliva, a white coating on the tongue (especially at the back of the tongue), build up around teeth, a constant need to clear the throat, a burning tongue and a constant sour, bitter metallic taste.
The underlying cause of this may vary however, and therefore so will the right treatment. There are lots of things that can cause halitosis, including:
dental infections (such as periodontitis, which is infection around the teeth);
poor oral hygiene;
nasal or sinus infections;
smoking (which starves the mouth of oxygen); and
a dry mouth (which can be caused by things like stress, medical conditions or alcohol).
There are some other less common causes of halitosis, including bile and acid reflux from the stomach, and more severe (though uncommon) medical conditions such as biochemical disorders, kidney failure, various carcinomas and metabolic dysfunctions.
And while some foods induce certain odours causing temporary bad breath – like garlic or cauliflower – these effects are just that, temporary.
The required treatment of halitosis will depend on the underlying cause and there is no one treatment. Good oral hygiene is the first place to start – which involves brushing the teeth twice a day for 2 minutes, as well as flossing and cleaning the tongue.
Using a mouthwash will also help, but in some cases further treatment may be necessary, such as using a nasal spray or taking antibiotics.
Tongue cleaning is particularly helpful as the bacteria that smell the worst live on the back of the tongue. Many toothbrushes have a tongue cleaner on the reverse side of the head, and there are also a variety of tongue brushes and scrapers available.
Avoiding dehydration will also help. If the halitosis is persistent or combined with other symptoms, always recommend that the customer visit their doctor to ensure there isn’t an underlying medical condition present.
By Sunny de Bruyn