Halitosis: Definition, Causes, Bacteria Involved, Treatment, Prevention and Advice

Known simply as bad breath, or more specifically chronic bad breath that persists even when the affected individual takes steps to reduce it.

An integral definition of Halitosis not only implies its well-known meaning but also the reasons why it occurs and what can be done about it.

The word is a combination of the Latin halitus and the Greek suffix -osis, and literally means “breath condition”. The recognition of bad breath is documented in Egyptian medical writings dating from 1500 BC.

Ancient doctors suggested using a combination of herbs and wine to eliminate halitosis. The first Chinese holistic healers understood that the white layer on the tongue may be responsible for bad breath and invented a rudimentary lingual cleanser.

However, it was not until the 1920s when Listerine began an aggressive marketing campaign for their mouthwash that the term “Halitosis” became part of the everyday vocabulary.

Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. J. Tonzetich, a researcher working for the University of British Columbia, finally discovered the root cause of bad breath by showing that anaerobic bacteria and volatile sulfur compounds that excrete as waste material cause halitosis.

On the basis of this revelation, scientists were then able to create solutions that target and eliminate this type of bacteria.

What causes Halitosis?

The main cause of halitosis is dry mouth or xerostomia . In addition to helping us chew, swallow and digest food, saliva also promotes oral health and maintains an optimal pH level in the mouth (more than seven percent).

When someone suffers from xerostomia, the mouth becomes an excellent breeding ground for anaerobic bacteria, or bacteria that thrive in environments where there is no oxygen or almost nothing. In addition, ph levels decrease creating a high acid condition that also leads to the growth of anaerobic bacteria.

When talking about Halitosis, it is necessary to understand why these bacteria cause bad breath. These oral anaerobes consume proteins in the form of mucus, food particles and other debris from the mouth that are not properly brushed and rinsed.

A mouth that has a dry mouth does not have enough oxygenated saliva to help remove the remains of the mouth.

As a result, bacteria that consume oral proteins emit substantial amounts of sulfurous compounds that smell like rotten eggs or decaying organic matter.

So, what essentially causes chronic Halitosis is the excrement of anaerobic bacteria facilitated by the fermentation of peptides and proteins found in gingival crevicular fluid, saliva, desquamated epithelial cells and blood.

Volatile sulfur compounds produce the most malodorous substances that delineate a definition of halitosis. VSCs mainly contain dimethyl sulfide, hydrogen sulfide, and methyl mercaptan, all compounds that emit strong, disgusting odors that resemble rotten eggs and / or decomposing meat.

Gram-negative anaerobic bacteria found in the plaque also create bad breath by filling the mouth with powerful-smelling metabolic byproducts, such as putrescine, valeric acid, skatole and butyric acid.

The bacterial species prevalent in cases of chronic Halitosis include:

  • Eubacterium.
  • Porphyromonas gingivalis.
  • Treponema denticola.
  • Tannerella forsythensis.

This type of bacteria also causes cavities and other serious oral diseases that could cause sepsis, a dangerous infection of the blood due to an untreated infection.

Halitosis is sometimes caused by tonsilloliths or tonsil stones embedded in the tonsils. The stones of the amygdala are small white spots of calcified remains of the mouth that emit sulphurous odors when they are stung or when they disintegrate naturally.

Treatment and prevention

The treatment for bad breath (Halitosis) will depend on its cause.

Generally, the most effective treatment is to improve your dental hygiene. As part of your daily routine, you should:

  • Flossing between teeth
  • Brushing teeth and gums
  • Clean your tongue
  • You may want to consider investing in an electric toothbrush, which can make cleaning easier and more effective.

Cleaning your teeth

Your dentist will probably recommend brushing your teeth at least twice a day with toothpaste with fluoride .

Below are some tips on how to brush your teeth and keep your mouth healthy.

You should:

  • Use dental floss to clean between the teeth and remove trapped food that could cause cavities, brush on its own, only clean approximately 60% of the tooth surface.
  • Choose a small or medium toothbrush with synthetic bristles from multiple soft strands.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three or four months.
  • Brush your teeth for at least two minutes, you can have a toothbrush at work or at school so you can brush your teeth after lunch.
  • Brush all areas of your teeth, paying particular attention to where your teeth and gums are located, your dentist or oral hygienist may recommend the use of a special single-strand brush for specific problem areas of your mouth.
  • Use a separate toothbrush or tongue scraper to lightly brush your tongue: some toothbrushes have a tongue cleaner on the back of the brush head.
  • Avoid brushing your teeth for 30 minutes after drinking an acidic drink, such as fruit juice, or eating acidic fruits, such as oranges, to help prevent tooth abrasion.

Your dentist may recommend that you rinse your mouth every day with an antibacterial or anti-odor mouthwash. This should not replace brushing, but it can be included as part of your daily routine.

Read more about dental health and how to keep your teeth clean.

Denture cleaning

If you wear false teeth, you should take it out at night to give your mouth a chance to rest. Clean your dentures well before putting them on the following morning:

  • Do not use toothpaste to clean your dentures as it may scratch the surface and cause stains.
  • Clean your dentures completely with soap and warm water, denture cream or a tablet to clean dentures.
  • Use a separate toothbrush to clean your dentures.
  • Your dentures should be kept clean and fresh if you follow this routine. It will also help prevent the buildup of plaque, which can cause bad breath.

Tips for fresh breath

To help keep your breath fresh, you should:

  • Give up smoking
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet and avoid eating spicy or spicy foods.
  • Reduce sugary foods and drinks, as it can increase the amount of bacteria in your mouth.
  • Reduce your alcohol consumption.
  • Reduce the coffee.
  • Drink plenty of water to help prevent the mouth from drying out.
  • Chewing sugar-free gum after eating to stimulate the flow of saliva will help eliminate the remaining food particles.
  • You must visit your dentist for regular check-ups. Having regular dental check-ups will ensure that any plaque and calculus, formerly known as tartar, is removed from the teeth, especially in hard-to-reach areas.

Your dentist can recommend the best way to clean your teeth and gums, and point out areas you may be missing. They can also identify any signs of gum disease and ensure early treatment.

Gastrointestinal disorders

Bad breath can be caused by a gastrointestinal problem, such as H. pylori infection or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). You can be referred to a gastroenterologist.

The recommended treatment will depend on the type of gastrointestinal condition you have. For example, if you have a stomach ulcer, you may need a combination of two or three different antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), this is known as eradication therapy.