Bad Breath (Halitosis): Bacterial Origins and Scents


Bad breath, or halitosis, is a very common oral health problem. People of any age may have halitosis, including:

  • Those who practice poor dental hygiene.
  • The elderly, disabled people and young children, who find dental hygiene difficult.
  • People who use mouth appliances, including dental braces and dentures.
  • Smokers are more prone to halitosis and periodontal disease (another contributor to bad breath).
  • People with certain medical conditions, including tooth decay, impacted teeth, abscessed teeth, periodontal disease, alcoholism, uncontrolled diabetes, kidney disease, sinusitis, throat and lung infections (such as bronchitis), post-nasal drip, allergies and dry mouth. Dry mouth may result from a high-protein diet, non-fibrous diet or medical condition.
  • People on certain medications, including certain vitamin supplements, antihistamines, calcium blockers, cardiac medications, blood pressure pharmaceuticals and psychiatric drugs. These substances can inhibit saliva flow or produce dry mouth, which may lead to halitosis. Dry mouth may also lead to excessive thirst and tooth decay – a good foundation for halitosis once again.
  • Poor dieters who are dehydrated because of certain foods they eat may have bad breath. Foods that contribute to halitosis include diet soda, onions, spices, garlic, curry, cabbage and coffee. High-protein food debris lodged between the teeth can produce halitosis as well.

Bacterial Origins of Bad Breath

Researchers have determined that bad breath typically begins when the waste produced by bacteria in the mouth, nose or stomach comes into contact with the air.

There are numerous nasal triggers for bad breath. Nasal dysfunction, including a genetic abnormality in the nasal passage, may inhibit proper mucus flow. The bacteria found in sinusitis, post-nasal drip and allergies may pass from the nose to the back of the tongue where it can lie dormant due to improper saliva flow or poor dental hygiene.

When bacterial plaque is not removed from the teeth, the gums or between the teeth, it continues to grow and ultimately may lead to halitosis, tooth decay and gum disease.

Bad Breath Bacterial Scents

Biologists have found that numerous types of bacteria contribute to halitosis. All of these bacteria are found in other types of unpleasant odors, including corpse scent (a combination of oxygen and sulfur compounds and/or nitrogen-containing gases such as cadaverine), decayed meat (putrescine), rotten egg stench (hydrogen sulfide), smelly feet (isovaleric acid), as well as feces aroma (methyl mercaptan and skatole).

To think that such scents could be emanating from your mouth is unpleasant indeed, illustrating the importance of proper dental hygiene and regular dental check-ups.


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