Bacteria do dirty work to produce bad breath


Ever been backed into a corner by bad breath?

Let's face it, one of the most delicate social situations you may have to deal with is bad breath wafting off of someone close. How can you alert them and persuade them to take action without making the situation even worse?

Although there are a variety of things that cause bad breath, people often incorrectly assume it's only from foods they have eaten such as garlic or onions, and this may be true in short-term cases. Persistent bad breath, however, is usually the result of undisturbed bacteria doing their nefarious work in a person's mouth and emitting satisfied belches of sulfur compounds.

Sometimes an even more obnoxious character called streptococcus faecalis shows up to produce -- and I'm not kidding -- fecal odor. Gross! Typically the owner of the toxic breath isn't aware of the degree of unpleasantness, but they may frequently hear "Tic Tac, Sir?" Trying to remedy this level of halitosis with only mint or mouthwash is akin to putting perfume on a skunk. Within a few minutes the sweet smell wears off and the predatory breath returns.

Knowing that about 80 percent of truly bad breath comes from the gums and the tongue, the place to start is a thorough dental checkup. The dentist will evaluate the person's gums for signs of infection. If their gums bleed when they brush or floss, it's a sign they are infected and probably contain the type of bacteria whose calling card is this troublingly pungent breath.

These bacteria infect the gums between the teeth and when they become established they can only be removed with the help of a dental hygienist or dentist. The hygienist will recommend the most appropriate tools for you to use at home to brush, flush or scrape these rascals out every day.

Be careful though. A person's tongue is like a big shag carpet. The bacteria will wait it out on the back of the tongue and if a person's enthusiasm for cleanliness wanes, they will happily vault back into the gums. So make sure to scrub the tongue as well. The best way to clean bacteria off this area is with a tongue scraper or stiff toothbrush.

If the gums and tongue are healthy and the halitosis hangs on, the dentist will probably refer the person to an ear, nose, and throat specialist to have the sinuses and tonsils evaluated, as these can be a reservoir of unpleasant bacteria. A gastroenterologist may also be recommended if the odor source is thought to the stomach.

But aren't there any mouthwashes that work? A product called Smart Mouth claims to work for up to 12 hours. A lot of dental offices recommend Oxyfresh and of course there are the old standards of Listerine or Scope.

Unfortunately, none of these can work their way under the gums or deep into the fissures of the tongue where the noxious gases are being manufactured.

The bottom line on bad breath is to keep yourself educated on where it's truly coming from and eliminate the source instead of trying to cover it up with short-term solutions.

Dr. Eric Gustavsen practices dentistry at Southpoint Dental Center, 1129 S. Second Ave. More information on his practice can be found at


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