Bad breath is like a broken tail light on your car: you don’t know it’s there until someone embarrassingly points it out.
And both require prompt action.
The problem: gum usually just masks the scent of a smelly mouth. You have to find the culprit, which is sometimes easier said than done.
Gingivitis (aka gum disease) is a common cause, says dentist Tina Giannacopoulos. (If you have it, you’ll likely notice bleeding and inflamed or receding gums.)
That not the issue? Don’t overlook these seven other possible reasons why you have foul breath.
1. You’re Taking Certain Drugs
“Medications for high blood pressure, antidepressants and antihistamines can have side effects of xerostomia or dry mouth,” says Giannacopoulos. “This can lead to bad breath, as saliva is necessary to wash away food particles from the oral cavity.”
Saliva keeps your mouth moist, neutralises acids and washes away dead cells that build up.
A lack of it means food particles, cells and bacteria accumulate and stink up the joint.
If you’re on a drug that’s drying you out, drink lots of water and chew gum with xylitol in it, which can help add moisture, Giannacopoulos says.
2. You’re Hungry
So busy you skipped lunch?
Eating helps you replenish the saliva in your mouth. Without food, your mouth is left dry and more susceptible to foul-smelling breath.
3. You’ve Got a Mouth Infection
Mouth infections mean loads of bacteria, which – when they decompose – can release odours of sulfur, says Giannacopoulos.
If you think you could have an infection like pericoronitis, which is inflammation of the soft tissue around the crown of a tooth, it’s time to clean up your oral hygiene habits and see your dentist.
4. You’re Brushing and Flossing All Wrong
Truth: most of us are brushing and flossing like rookies – and this causes food particles to build up, says Giannacopoulos.
“Trapped food particles accelerate the growth of bacteria and cause inflammation, leading to bad breath,” she says.
Here’s the right way to brush. “Hold the brush horizontally against your teeth and tilt it at a 45-degree angle,” says Giannacopoulos. “Move the toothbrush in short horizontal strokes.” You should do this twice a day for two minutes each time.
As for flossing? “Gentle and thorough are key words,” says Giannacopoulos.
The floss should go slightly under your gum line and hug each tooth.
“Brushing alone misses almost half of the tooth surfaces, so flossing is also a must,” she says.
5. You Neglect Your Tongue
Your pearly whites aren’t the only things that need brushing.
Bacteria thrive all over your mouth, especially on your tongue, says Giannacopoulos.
So pick up a tongue scraper at your local pharmacy and brush it every time you clean your teeth, she suggests.
Just remember to be careful – you don’t need much pressure.
6. You Haven’t Had Your Wisdom Teeth Removed
Still have your wisdom teeth?
These teeth and surrounds can trap food and bacteria and become infected, which can contribute to stinky breath, says Giannacopoulos.
It’s best to ask your dentist if you need yours out. And if you think you have an infection, you could need antibiotics.
7. You Have a Cavity
Here’s a good case for keeping a date with your dentist every six months: “Sometimes untreated cavities can cause sensitivity and pain; however, sometimes they can go unnoticed,” says Giannacopoulos.
And if you have one, you might give off some stink. “Bacteria essentially eat away at tooth structure and release odours,” she says.
So stay up to date on your cleanings – clinical dental exams and X-rays can ID cavities.