Why bad breath can point to serious health issues

Bad breath can be your body's way of telling you something isn't quite right. Picture source: Pixabay

We’ve all been in a situation where you’ve been around someone in serious need of a stick of gum or a breath mint. While it’s easy to put bad breath down to poor dental hygiene, it can actually point to an array of more serious health issues.

Bacteria and toxins can build up in your mouth and create a putrid smell when not cleaned regularly, but it can become particularly worrying when you know you’re maintaining good oral hygiene and your breath still doesn’t feel fresh. In reality, bad breath can be a common side-effect of typical health problems we may not know we have. 

It may sound unlikely, but dieting and fasting can cause your breath to take a turn for the worst. When you aren’t eating as much or consuming lower levels of carbohydrates, the body breaks down fat faster than usual. During this process, a chemical called ketones is produced. While it does wonders for your waist, the chemical can linger in the body and cause bad breath.

Similarly, a number of different medications can also lead to a smelly scent. In most cases, a health professional, GP or doctor may be able to offer another brand or alternative, yet most chemotherapy drugs, tranquillisers and nitrates (typically prescribed when people experience chest pain) are known to cause bad breath.

In addition, a lot of people experience dry mouth, which is one of the leading medical causes of bad breath. As many as 10 per cent of the general population and 25 per cent of older people are impacted by the condition at some point. Saliva helps keep the mouth moist and prevents smelly bacteria from building up, but when it is reduced, your mouth becomes a hotspot for bacteria to breed and grow.

In other cases, bad breath can actually be a sign that something isn’t quite right in your gut. Gastrointestinal conditions including bacterial infections, H. pylori infections and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease are all known to cause bad breath. While they can be tricky to manage, a health professional will usually be required to perform an endoscopy to examine your insides.

Some diabetes sufferers also experience bad breath. Because the body can’t produce insulin, it burns fat and causing ketones to develop. Similar to fasting, they’re the exact same chemicals that let off the disturbing smell. Diabetes can also cause periodontal diseases including gum disease and gingivitis, where bacteria attack the bones and tissues that actually support your teeth.

The lungs also play a role in breathing and as such, problems with them can also cause bad breath. It typically signals there’s a disease or infection present. Because the smell is so distinct, some health professionals are actually able to detect lung cancer early because of breath odour.

There are also cases where people don’t actually have bad breath, but think they do. This case is called halitophobia, where people become constantly paranoid and worried about the smell of their breath.

If concerned, it’s always a good idea to talk to your dentist or GP, particularly if you are maintaining oral hygiene but still experience smelly breath. If you are seeking professional help, it’s important not to mask the smell. Doing so could make it harder for a doctor or dentist to figure out what’s going on.

As a general rule, it’s important to ensure you brush your teeth and gums twice a day and floss between your teeth daily. Also be sure to clean your tongue, as a lot of bad bacteria can grow here.

What do you think? Have you experienced bad breath, even though you maintain good oral hygiene?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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