In medical terms, bad breath is known as Halitosis and affects 50% to 60% of the population.
It is generally agreed that the source of bad breath is a group of sulphur-containing compounds which are produced in the mouth or nasal areas. These compounds are created by the breakdown of bacteria and are known as Volatile Sulphur Compounds (VSC).
There are many causes of bad breath but the main ones are diseased gum tissues and tooth decay. Gum diseases such as gingivitis or the more advanced periodontitis need to be detected immediately. With periodontitis, the gum loses its attachment to the tooth, and a pocket develops. Within this pocket, bacteria accumulates that can produce VSC.
Dryness of the mouth can also cause halitosis. Saliva is a strong antibacterial substance, and without it, bacteria can grow. A dry mouth can be caused by certain diseases or as a side effect of medicines taken to treat conditions such as high blood pressure.
Sinusitis and tonsilitis cause bad breath as the mucus is attacked by bacteria in the throat or nose to produce VSC. Other diseases like diabetes and hepatitis can sometimes be a contributing factor in halitosis.
Disturbances of the digestive system may cause bad breath but the stomach is not generally the main source. Eating foods such as onions and garlic will result in bad breath.
The first step in treating bad breath is detection. A test for separating nasal and oral bad breath is to pinch the nose, breath-in, and then close the mouth. A dentist may use a machine called a halimeter which detects sulphurous compounds in the breath, but it can be argued that the human nose is the most effective instrument for detecting halitosis.
Mouthwashes reduce the number of bacteria in the mouth and help reduce halitosis. They are only partially effective, and if used as the only method of combatting bad breath, the improvement will only be temporary.
Tongue cleaning is also an essential factor in beating bad breath. The cleaning should be directed towards the back of the upper surface of the tongue. This can be done with a specially designed tongue scraper which can be bought from your dentist.
Sugar-free chewing gum will increase saliva flow and help combat a dry mouth.