Medical Moment: Bad Breath

Medical Moment: Bad Breath

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Although bad breath, also known as halitosis, can be an embarrassing problem, it is not at all uncommon. Bad breath affects millions of Americans, the vast majority of whom are otherwise healthy. For 90% of those affected, the source of halitosis is in the mouth. Some oral culprits include:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Gingivitis and periodontal disease
  • ‘Tongue coat’ most commonly on the back part of the tongue
  • Food impaction
  • Unclean dentures
  • Infection in the sinuses or the throat
  • Insufficient fluid intake, (a common problem in high altitude places like Telluride), can cause dry mouth, which can also contribute to bad mouth odor.


A variant of halitosis is so called ‘morning breath,’ which is the most common cause of bad breath. During sleep, there is decreased flow of saliva in the mouth, which allows bacteria to feed on remaining food particles. By-products of these bacteria produce the odor.

Other possible causes of bad breath include food such as onions, garlic, meats, and nuts, alcohol and tobacco products and medications such as antidepressants and antihistamines.

For the 10% of people in whom the oral cavity is not the source of halitosis, underlying conditions are the cause. These may include reflux disease (heartburn,) hiatal hernia, respiratory infections, cancer, diabetes, and liver disease.

What can you do to prevent bad breath? Good oral hygiene is a must. This includes brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, especially along the gum line and on the tongue. Flossing at least once a day to get rid of food particles between teeth is also very important. Avoiding tobacco products, alcohol, and foods that can cause halitosis will help decrease bad mouth odor.

Those who have difficulty with a dry mouth should try to increase their fluid intake and could chew sugar free gum or suck on sugar free candy to increase saliva.

Most mouthwashes only have a short lasting effect on bad breath; if it is used, it should be swished around for 30 seconds.

Dentures should be cleaned on a daily basis. A visit to the dentist twice a year for a cleaning and check up will also aid in good oral hygiene.

If after all of these measures bad breath is still a problem, a visit to your family physician may help to rule out other causes.




Editor’s note: The Telluride Medical Center is the only 24-hour emergency facility within 65 miles. As a mountain town in a challenging, remote environment, a thriving medical center is vital to our community’s health.

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