It's normal to have bad breath occasionally—like after a garlicky meal—but it's not normal to always have bad breath. If you suffer from chronic bad breath, you shouldn't rely on self-help methods like mints and gum to keep the odor under control. You could have an underlying dental condition that's causing the odor. Here are three possible causes of your chronic bad breath.
Xerostomia—the medical term for a dry mouth—can lead to bad breath. Xerostomia occurs when your salivary glands stop producing as much saliva. This can happen for many reasons, including taking common medications like antidepressants. Saliva helps to clean bacteria and food off of your teeth, so when you have less of it, your teeth stay dirtier in between toothbrushing sessions. These bacteria break down the food particles and create the unpleasant odor associated with chronic bad breath.
If xerostomia is the cause of your bad breath, your mouth will feel dry. You may also have trouble chewing your food, especially dry foods like crackers or chips. Thick saliva is another clue that you're suffering from xerostomia.
Your dentist can help you manage the symptoms of xerostomia and get your bad breath under control. They may recommend drinking more water or rinsing your mouth with mouthwash. Special products that stimulate salivary production are also available, like dry mouth toothpaste. If they can't determine the precise cause of your xerostomia, be sure to see your family doctor to get to the root of the problem.
Periodontitis—also called severe gum disease—is another possible cause of chronic bad breath. Periodontitis is an infection of the gums and the other tissues that surround the teeth. It's caused by poor oral hygiene, like forgetting to floss.
If periodontitis is responsible for your bad breath, you'll notice that your gums are swollen and tender. They may be red or even purple due to the inflammation, and you may notice pus in between your teeth. This condition can make your mouth taste bad, and if your mouth tastes bad, you should take that as a hint that it smells bad, too.
Fortunately, your dentist can clear up your periodontitis (and your bad breath) with a thorough cleaning. Plaque and tartar will be scraped away, and with these bacterial films gone, your gums will be able to heal. You may need to use an antibiotic mouth rinse to help clear up the infection.
Tooth decay is another dental condition that can give you chronic bad breath. Tooth decay occurs when the bacteria that live inside your mouth feed on sugars. These bacteria make acids as they eat, and these acids will erode your tooth enamel, eventually forming a cavity.
Contrary to popular belief, you can have cavities without knowing it. When cavities are small, they can go unnoticed for months, which is why it's important to get regular dental checkups. Your dentist can find the cavities early and treat them to get rid of your bad breath. Once they become larger, cavities can lead to problems like toothaches, tooth sensitivity or even visible holes in the teeth in addition to bad breath.
If your dentist determines that you have tooth decay, they will remove the decayed tissue with a drill. The resulting hole will then be filled with silver amalgam, porcelain, plastic or another dental filling material. If your cavities are large and have weakened your teeth, your dentist may need to repair them with crowns. Crowns are caps that are cemented on top of your teeth.
If your breath always smells bad, see your dentist to find out if an underlying dental condition is to blame.