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Ooh, That Smell: What to Do if It's Coming From You


WebMD Health News

Aug. 9, 2001 -- Though there may never be an easy way to tell someone they've got bad breath, there are better ways to diagnose and treat the condition today than ever before.

Call it what you like -- malodor, halitosis, or just plain bad breath -- it stinks and no one wants it. Yes, more than 90 million Americans suffer from it, and it could be a sign of a health problem.

"Bad breath can be embarrassing and it can be masking gastric problems, sinus infections, or ... severe gum disease," says Mark Wolff, DDS, PhD, director of operative dentistry at State University of New York at Stony Brook, who discussed advances in treating bad breath at the recent annual meeting of the American Academy of General Dentistry in New York City.

Today, he says, dentists are much more capable when it comes to treating bad breath.

About 75% of bad breath stems from the mouth, he tells WebMD, and is caused when decay and debris produce sulfur compounds that cause foul odor.

Better treatment begins with improved detection. And that starts with new devices, such as the Halimeter, that can detect the amount of sulfur-producing bacteria in the mouth.

"Licking the back of your hand, letting it dry, and smelling it is still a powerful tool to see if you have bad breath, but now we can quantify it," says Wolff.

Along with good oral hygiene, some of the most promising treatments are mouthwashes, toothpastes, and other oral products that contain both chlorine dioxide and zinc.

"Zinc stops an enzyme from breaking down an amino acid that makes the sulfur -- and by doing this stops the process for a longer period of time -- while the chlorine dioxide kills the already formed bacteria," Wolff tells WebMD. "These products pack a one-two punch."

His advice to people with bad breath?

"Look for a product containing zinc and chorine dioxide," he says. Often such products can eliminate bad breath for up to eight hours.

Another breeding ground for odiferous bacteria is a dry mouth, he says.

An as-yet-unpublished study from SUNY Stony Brook found that when mouths are dried out, there's a sixfold increase in such sulfur compounds.

The dryer the mouth, the less saliva, and the worse the breath, Wolff explains. Alcohol as well as some medications -- including antidepressants, asthma drugs, antihistamines, and some blood pressure medications -- may dry the mouth out, he says.

"You have to get to the bacterial source and turn it off," he says. Try tongue rakes that gently scrape bacteria off the tongue, he says, and clean between the teeth with floss.

Daniel Lippiner, DDS, a periodontist and halitosis specialist in Manhattan, agrees that the first step toward treating bad breath is to isolate the cause.

"Treatment is dependent on what's found and what the reasons are," he says, "If the cause is gum disease then we treat the gum disease -- if it's caused by calcium deposits on the tonsils that are bad smelling, we can remove them from the folds of the tonsils."

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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