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Ask Dr. K: Good oral hygiene can end bad breath

DEAR DOCTOR K: My breath is OK during the day, but when I wake up in the morning, it’s terrible. What causes bad morning breath? And what can I do to prevent it?

DEAR READER: Bad breath, or halitosis, is a common problem – especially “morning breath.”

Certain foods can cause bad breath. Garlic and onions are classic examples. Reflux of stomach contents can do the same. So can serious diseases of the liver or kidneys. Infections of the tonsils, sinuses or respiratory tract can also be responsible for bad breath.

But the most common cause of bad breath in the morning are bacteria that reside in your mouth. Like us, bacteria need food to live. They get their food from substances that cover our gums, tongue and throat, and that fill the spaces between our teeth. When bacteria “digest” their food, they make various bad-smelling gases, including sulfides and amines.

These bad-smelling gases are most likely to be produced at night. That’s because during the night most of us do a lot of breathing through our mouth. That causes saliva to dry out, and the dry environment encourages the bacteria to produce more gases. Morning breath is unpleasant, but it can be quickly relieved by rinsing your mouth with water or mouthwash.

Poor oral hygiene also increases the amount of dental plaque, and bacteria love to live in the plaque. Diseases of your gums and structures supporting the teeth can allow these bacteria to get the upper hand and cause halitosis.

If you have bad breath, here’s what to do:

• Keep the saliva flowing. Drink plenty of water and chew sugarless gum.

• Avoid antihistamines and other medications that dry the mouth, if alternative medicines work just as well.

• See your dentist regularly and get prompt treatment for any problems.

• Get your teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist at least twice a year.

• Practice meticulous oral hygiene. That means flossing regularly and brushing your teeth – and tongue – diligently.

That’s right, the tongue. Brushing the upper surface of your tongue every time you brush your teeth removes a lot of gas-producing bacteria.


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