There are some smells that are just so wrong, even the thought of them can be a little stomach churning: rotten eggs or milk, burning hair, chronic bad breath – the kind that may be temporarily covered up by mouthwash, toothpaste, mints or gum but always returns with a vegeance. It returns, of course, because it’s not directly caused by eating or drinking something pungent but because of persistent oral microbes (though your diet can, of course, affect which microbes proliferate). What smells are those particular microbes and their metabolic byproducts, particularly volatile sulfur compounds (the stuff that makes rotten eggs smell so bad).
A new study in Applied and Environmental Microbiology casts a little more light on what we know about microbes causing bad breath – mainly that it’s not just the type of bacteria that matters but the balance of oral flora.
Bacteria attributed to bad breath are considered members, not imposters, of the oral microbial ecosystem suggesting that an overall shift in the structure of bacterial populations may be necessary to completely cure bad breath.
“Adjusting the global composition of indigenous bacterial populations toward a ‘healthy’ pattern may be an alternative approach to effectively prevent oral malodor,” say the researchers.
Bacterial populations in saliva samples collected from 240 patients complaining of bad breath were analyzed and divided into groups based on similar patterns. These patterns were then further explored in those exhibiting varying intensity levels of bad breath. One group displayed noticeably lower levels of volatile sulfur compounds (a major contributor to bad breath), while also showing higher proportions of bacterial populations indicating a possible correlation between the structure of innate bacterial populations and bad breath.
“The results of this investigation clearly demonstrate that oral malodor is a symptom based on the characteristic occupation of indigenous oral bacterial populations, rather than solely on bacterial overgrowth due to poor oral hygiene,” say the researchers. “The observation of oral bacterial populations from a broad ecological view may provide novel insights into human health and other disorders within the oral cavity.”
Of course, those with bad breath probably don’t want to wait until researchers figure it all out to do something about it. (Their friends, co-workers, associates and family would probably like a little quicker action, as well.) So here are seven things you can start doing now to improve your breath:
- Brush and floss regularly.
- When brushing your teeth, brush your tongue, as well.
- Use an oral irrigator regularly, adding a bit of Under the Gums Irrigant or similar herbal treatment to the water.
- If you wear a partial or removable bridge, or use any kind of oral appliance (e.g., night guard, splint, retainer), clean it regularly as instructed when you were fitted for the device.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Don’t smoke or chew tobacco.
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet high in vegetables and fruits, low in processed starches and carbohydrates. Eat sugars sparingly.
That said, bad breath can occasionally be a sign of certain medical conditions, so if such measures don’t seem to make a difference, be sure to consult with your dentist about other factors that may be contributing to the problem.