Halitosis (bad breath) is mostly caused by sulphur-producing bacteria that normally live on the surface of the tongue and in the throat. Sometimes, these bacteria start to break down proteins at a very high rate and odorous volatile sulphur compounds (VSC) are released from the back of the tongue and throat. Halitosis is not infectious. About 2.4% of the adult population suffers from bad breath.
Causes of halitosis
Apart from the sulphur-producing bacteria that colonise the back of the tongue, the other major causes of halitosis are:
- Dental factors – such as periodontitis (infection around the teeth) or poor oral hygiene
- Dry mouth – caused by medicines, alcohol, stress or a medical condition
- Smoking – which starves the mouth of oxygen.
Less common causes of halitosis include:
- Acid and bile reflux from the stomach
- Post-nasal discharge – for example, due to chronic sinusitis
- Kidney failure, various carcinomas, metabolic dysfunctions, and biochemical disorders, together account for only a very small percentage of halitosis suffers
- Foods - such as onions, garlic or cauliflower, which induce certain odours. However, these effects are only short-lived.
Symptoms of halitosis
The features of halitosis can include:
- A white coating on the tongue especially at the back of the tongue
- Dry mouth
- Build up around teeth
- Post-nasal drip, or mucous
- Morning bad breath and a burning tongue
- Thick saliva and a constant need to clear your throat
- Constant sour, bitter metallic taste.
Having halitosis can have a major impact on a person. Because of bad breath, other people may back away or turn their heads. This can cause a loss of confidence and self-esteem.