You already know your breath can give away information like the last time you brushed your teeth or what you had for lunch. It can actually tell you a lot more than that. In fact, your breath could tell you about your overall health, too.
What Your Breath Can Tell You About Your Oral Health
Morning breath is no joke, and a good motivator for brushing our teeth in the morning. That gets rid of that gross film in your mouth that forms while you sleep, and ensures your breath doesn’t stink all day. Still, your breath can tell you a lot more about your oral health.
In fact, it can be helpful to pay attention to your breath since it can let you know if something is wrong in your mouth. Bad breath might indicate:
- Dental infections: If you have dying teeth, gum disease, tooth decay, or any other infection in your mouth, it can cause bad breath of varying degrees.
- Dry Mouth: If you have dry mouth because of a health condition or breathing through your mouth when you sleep, bacteria can build up in your mouth, causing bad breath.
- Poor dental habits: This is the most obvious reason for bad breath, and it’s also the easiest to fix. If you’re not brushing twice daily for two minutes, flossing daily and cleaning your tongue, then bacteria, food, and plaque build up in your mouth, causing stinky breath. If you have braces, dentures, or another dental appliance, insufficient cleaning of the gear or appliance can also cause bad breath.
- Surgical wounds: If you have oral surgery, your wounds can be a source of bad breath. Look out for breath that worsens with time rather than improving as that may be a sign of a wound infection.
- Using the wrong dental products: Some dental health products, like mouthwash, with high alcohol content can actually dry your mouth out, causing bad breath rather than helping it.
But what if you have great oral hygiene, a report of excellent oral health from your dentist, and no other obvious reasons for your bad breath? Your breath may be telling you something about your overall health, instead.
What Can Your Breath Reveal About Your Overall Health?
If your breath smells bad or unusual, no matter how great your oral hygiene is, it’s time to check in with your doctor. Here are some of the general health conditions that can cause changes in your breath.
- Acid reflux: Acid reflux, also called GERD, is caused by stomach acid flowing back up the esophagus, which can also bring undigested food with it and a sour odor.
- Bronchitis: When your bronchial tubes get infected, they swell and you end up with a terrible cough, congestion, and bad-smelling mucus and breath.
- Dehydration: If you’re dehydrated, your body may not produce enough saliva, which causes dry mouth and an excess of bacteria in your mouth.
- Diabetes: This lack of insulin causes your body to burn fat rather than sugar, which produces ketones, like acetone, in your body. If your breath smells fruity or like nail polish, it may be diabetes.
- Diet: Several diets can cause bad breath. A diet high in onions and garlic may cause stinky breath, but it’s nothing to worry about with good oral health. Low carb diets, however, can cause the release of ketones like acetone, just like diabetes.
- Infections: Any infection of the nose, sinus, throat, or tonsils can cause bad breath.
- Kidney problems: If your kidneys aren’t functioning correctly, they’re unable to filter minerals out of your blood properly, causing them to build up in your body. This can make your breath smell of ammonia or urine.
- Liver problems: When your liver isn’t working correctly, it can’t regulate your blood sugar or filter toxins from your blood. This can cause bad breath with a musty, sweet smell.
- Medications: Some medications give you dry mouth, while others release chemicals in your body that can be smelled on your breath.
- Pneumonia: This infection can be viral or bacterial, but the buildup of fluid in your lungs can smell foul, and if you cough it up, the smell will carry on your breath.
- Post-nasal drip: If mucus builds up in the back of your throat, it can travel to your mouth or build up around your tonsils, causing bad breath.
- Tobacco use: Using tobacco products causes a buildup of odor causing agents in your mouth, airways, and lungs, and also causes dry mouth. It can also cause oral diseases, which can cause bad breath as well.
In addition, some autoimmune diseases, cancers, and metabolic disorders can cause distinctive smelling breath. So, if your breath smells strange or bad, what can you do about it?
What You Can Do to Improve Your Breath
Start with the basics. Your oral health and your overall health are connected, so take care of your body as a whole. Quit smoking or using other tobacco products. Drink plenty of water, eat a healthy diet, and practice breathing through your nose instead of your mouth. If you often have dry mouth, talk to your dentist about using things like xylitol gum to help with dry mouth.
If your breath doesn’t improve, either see your dentist or your doctor. Strange-smelling breath that’s different from standard bad breath warrants a visit to your doctor to rule out serious health concerns. If your doctor determines your bad breath is due to oral health issues, see your dentist next. Your dentist can pinpoint the issue and help you resolve oral health problems.
From there, talk to your dentist about improving your dental health routine. You may need to work on your brushing technique, get a flossing tutorial, or learn how to properly clean your tongue. Brushing and flossing remove stinky bacteria from your teeth and gums, while a tongue scraper removes it from your tongue. Use a tongue scraper to scrape from the back of the tongue to the front to remove smelly bacteria. Unless it’s due to a health condition, with excellent oral hygiene and healthy habits, you can improve bad breath.
Your breath can be a piece of the puzzle, but to learn more about the mouth-body connection, follow dental expert, dentist, and dad Dr. Kami Hoss. His upcoming book, If Your Mouth Could Talk, can help you understand the mouth-body connection between your oral health and your overall health.