Dear Dr. Nelson,
Lately I have noticed my husband’s breath becoming increasingly unpleasant. Not always, but often at times when it can be most embarrassing (when company is visiting or we are enjoying a “date night”). I don’t want to embarrass him by making a big deal out of it, but I am really hoping this isn’t just a condition that comes with “gracefully growing older.” Could this be a dental issue? He says he has no pain or discomfort—and actually has very nice teeth! Any advice would be appreciated.”
— Sara F., Rocky Hill


Dear Sara,
While it can sometimes be uncomfortable to address, most everyone may exhibit foul-smelling breath from time to time. Depending on a number circumstances, bad breath is usually caused by oral bacteria trapped between teeth, or coating the mouth, gums, tongue, and upper throat. A dry mouth due to taking medication or dehydration can also be a culprit, as insufficient saliva prevents the mouth from “naturally” cleansing away bacteria after you eat. In most cases, staying hydrated—and practicing good oral hygiene—is all that’s needed to remedy the problem.

But bad breath could be an indicator of something else.

Chronic bad breath (medically called halitosis), can be a sign that there is a more serious dental health condition present. So your worry there could be dental problems is spot on. If he hasn’t already done so, my advice would be to have your husband make an appointment for a complete dental examination. If interested, a call to our office explaining the problem would help assure we get him in for a thorough dental exam as quickly as possible.

Because bad breath does affect so many without serious dental problems, I thought it might be helpful to include this easy and effective checklist. I call these preventive tips the “Great Smelling Eight.” Following them is an easy way to ensure your sparkling smile is as beautiful and alluring “up close” as it is from afar!

Tip #1: brush and floss routinely—after every meal if possible
Brushing and flossing your teeth may seem like an obvious answer--but how and when you do can play a big part in preventing unpleasant breath. Try to brush and floss at least twice a day, or better yet after every meal, and ALWAYS right before bedtime to remove food debris and developing plaque — both odor-causing culprits.

Tip #2: clean your tongue and cheeks
Your entire mouth is susceptible to absorbing food odors and harboring bacteria. Cleaning your tongue and inner cheeks with a toothbrush (and using a tongue scraper if you have one), followed by gargling with an anti-bacterial mouthwash, is a great way to ensure prolonged pleasant breath.

Tip #3: stay hydrated
Staying hydrated by drinking water throughout the day helps keep your mouth clean— while also providing other important health benefits. Drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water a day is highly recommended.

Drinking water is the best way to maintain a healthy level of saliva, allowing the body to naturally cleanse bacteria from the mouth. Second, drinking water during and after meals assists in the cleansing process. For sufferers of nighttime dry mouth, keeping water near your bedside can provide immediate relief from that annoying condition, while also helping to combat unpleasant “morning breath.”

Tip #4: quit smoking or using any tobacco products
Along with all the other health risks it poses, smoking and tobacco lead to dry mouth, while also depositing molecules that cling to the mouth’s surface. Often, this leads to unpleasant breath that even brushing and gargling with a mouthwash cannot mask.

Tip #5: chew sugarless gum
While it may not always be appropriate, chewing sugarless gum can provide a number of benefits for combating bad breath. This includes helping remove trapped food particles, while also inducing the production of mouth-cleansing saliva. Sugarless mints, while not as effective as gum, also provide benefit.

Tip #6: select your foods carefully

Aromatic foods—especially strong spices, herbs, and vegetables like garlic, onions, chili powder—can penetrate the mouth membranes, leaving odors that last for hours and even days. Eat odor-causing foods sparingly, and try to rinse or brush thoroughly as soon after eating as possible.

Tip #7: maintain a steady eating schedule
If allowed to become completely empty, the stomach can experience a build-up of acids that can cause bad breath. Eating proper foods at regular intervals keeps your stomach acids in check, while also keeping you healthier and more energized!

Tip #8: visit your dentist regularly
Maintaining your oral hygiene is paramount for avoiding bad breath, and the best way to do that is through regularly scheduled dental check-ups. If you often suffer from bad breath, your check-up will either rule out or confirm the existence of underlying dental issues causing your halitosis. Proper actions can then be taken to remedy the problem.

Have an interesting question regarding cosmetic dental procedures or dental health? I invite you to submit it to “Ask Dr. Nelson” via email using the CONTACT page of my website. Please type “Ask Dr. Nelson” in the subject line.