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Innovative Treatments Yield Better Understanding of Halitosis, Bad Breath

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Treatments Yield Understanding of Bad Breath

Innovative Treatments Yield Better Understanding of Halitosis, Bad Breath

December 06, 2004
By: Laurie Edwards for Dental1.org

For many people, daily brushing and flossing is enough to combat the bacteria that cause bad breath, also known as halitosis. But for some people, the nuisance of bad breath can be symptomatic of more serious causes that brushing and flossing alone cannot fix. For these patients, researchers are developing more innovative ways of eliminating halitosis.
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How to prevent bad breath:
  • Know the risk factors. They include: bacterial infections, medications that cause dry mouth, and periodontal disease resulting from smoking, dentures, teeth restoration such as bridges, and poor oral hygiene.
  • Brush, floss, and see your dentist regularly.
  • Brush your tongue, which traps large amounts of bacteria in your mouth.
  • Rinse with a mouthwash after you finish brushing for extra protection against bacteria buildup.


  • Most bad breath is caused by bacteria in the mouth and on the tongue, and there are relatively easy, common-sense ways to combat it. In addition to brushing and flossing, brushing the tongue can also help scrape away this lingering bacteria, as well as rinsing with anti-bacterial mouthwash.

    Certain foods, including garlic and onions, can further contribute to bad breath once they enter the bloodstream and travel to the lungs, where their odor is expelled as people inhale and exhale. Virtually everyone experiences bad breath of this sort at one point or another, though not everyone is aware it is a problem.

    “There are probably plenty of people who have bad breath and don’t know it, and others who have good breath, but think they have bad breath,” said Dr. Janet O’Mahoney of Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center.

    While around 90 percent of halitosis is caused by bacteria on the tongue and in the mouth, a much smaller percentage is caused by cloisters of bacteria that congregate in pockets in the tonsils of some patients, according to American Dental Association spokesman Dr. Richard Price. For these patients, Dr. Yehuda Finkelstein, an Israeli researcher, may have a new method of battling halitosis. He is testing a laser that burns away empty spaces in tonsils that are perfect places for bacteria to fester, a solution that more simple techniques, such as antibiotics, cannot match.

    Another innovative approach to bad breath is being explored by researchers at Boston’s Forsythe Institute, where scientist Bruce Paster turned to DNA sequencing to solve the problem. Using scrapings from the tongues of people with bad breath and those without, his team found that relatively “good” bacteria existed on the tongues of those without halitosis, while what he called “bad” bacteria was found on the tongues of those with it.

    These patients with "bad" bacteria used anti-microbial mouthwashes for one week and a similar zinc gel for one year. In time, researchers found that the problematic bacteria had been replaced by the “good” bacteria. It is when bad breath becomes a chronic problem that more hidden – and sometimes serious – causes should be investigated. Halitosis can indicate the presence of gum disease. This condition is a chronic bacterial infection that affects the gums and bone supporting the teeth and causes gums to become inflamed.

    Dry mouth, a cessation in the flow of saliva necessary to cleanse the mouth, can cause halitosis. Certain medications can result in dry mouth, as well as salivary gland disturbances. Other times, foul odor can be the result of bacteria in the stomach that should be treated with antibiotics. Respiratory infections, chronic sinusitis, diabetes or kidney or liver abnormalities can also cause halitosis, so those patients whom dentists find have healthy mouths should consult physicians to determine the underlying cause.

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