Bad breath (technically referred to as halitosis) is no doubt extremely embarrassing, but there are far more serious concerns regarding mouth odor than putting off someone else (although an awkward social situation can feel life-ending). This is because bad breath could have been caused by various reasons or medical conditions, some of them which are quite serious.
That’s why its important to take regular breath tests. Not only will it save you from embarrassment, but also indicate if there needs to be further concern. For example, a study published in the Journal Gut in April of 2015 says that a breath test can detect stomach cancer in very early stages.
Let’s start with the basics…
What Causes Bad Breath?
As we said, halitosis can indicate gastric cancer, but that’s not the only cause of it. The following is a list of common causes of bad breath, according to the Mayo Clinic:
1. Food: Bacterial production in the mouth is increased when food particles are broken down, and this can result in unpleasant odors. Things like onions, garlic, spices, and other strong-smelling foods are quite notorious in making your breath smell bad.
2. Tobacco: Smoking or using other tobacco-related products can result in unpleasant mouth odors.
3. Dry Mouth: A dry mouth has a lower quantity of saliva, which results in bad breath. This is why our breath smells in the morning; it is even more apparent in people who sleep with their mouths open.
4. Poor Dental Hygiene: If you do not floss or brush your teeth in the right way, you are missing a whole lot of bacteria and tiny food particles that remain in your mouth and cause a bad scent. You would also need to clean your tongue regularly as it tends to form a layer of bacteria that can also smell putrid.
5. Infections: Dental infections such as tooth decay, gum disease, and dying teeth can all cause bad breath. Other infections in the mouth or even surgical wounds can do the same as well.
6. Postnatal Drip: When the mucus hardens in the tonsils, you will be letting out some seriously foul-smelling breath. This is why your breath smells bad when you have a cold. Chronic postnasal drip and sinus drainage can also have the same effect.
7. GERD: Standing for Gastroesophagal Reflux Disease, GERD occurs when there is excess acid in the stomach or chronic reflux of stomach acid. It is a common cause of bad breath. A cure for this diseases would automatically cure the unpleasant odors.
8. Other Causes: Certain types of metabolic diseases or even cancer can leave your breath smelling foul for a long time. Please do consult a doctor, especially if your breath smells metallic.
Some people with halitosis aren’t even aware that their breath smells bad, and that can be an issue not only because its unpleasant, but because you may be missing a bigger health condition. You could ask your close friends or family to confirm it.
An official breath test, though, can even screen the freshest-smelling breath for underlying health conditions. We’ll talk more about that in detail later.
Here are 9 ways in which your bad breath could be an indication of bad health:
1. Stomach Cancer
As we said earlier, stomach cancer can be the cause of your halitosis. Stomach cancer screening isn’t a part of your routine checkup in the US, because the current method of endoscopy is quite invasive. The future of medicine is always looking to reduce risk and increase comfort, so a solution to that might be here soon. A breath-test called nanoarray analysis might soon make our lives a lot easier. It identifies certain compounds in your breath that are linked to stomach cancer.
A small study of 484 people conducted in Israel using the nanoarray analysis found that 98% of the people the test diagnosed with stomach cancer hadn’t even started treatment yet! This means it detected the cancer in its earliest stage, which would make it easier to treat. A larger, more comprehensive trial of it is ongoing in Europe, and the results are looking hopeful to using breath analysis to screen for such diseases.
2. Lung Cancer
Halitosis could also be caused by lung cancer. Currently, pathologists use methods like biopsies and ultrasound scans to diagnose lung cancer, but we may soon be looking towards nanoarray analysis and breath tests. These are certainly cheaper, easier, and more noninvasive!
A study conducted at the University of Latvia tested the breath of 475 people. Of this group, there were 252 lung cancer patients, and 223 of those who had other lung conditions or no conditions at all. Among them, 265 were smokers, 210 were not.
The researchers found that lung cancer was correctly identified in 128 nonsmokers, and misdiagnosed in 5. Similarly, it accurately diagnosed 114 smokers as having lung cancer, and misdiagnosed 5.
3. Heart Failure
Breath tests could also determine heart failure or other underlying heart conditions, and this might become publicly available very soon. According to a paper published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology, researchers were able to do exactly this.
Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic collected breath samples from 41 patients. With the help of mass spectrometric technology, they analyzed the samples for chemical compounds present in patients with heart failure. Of this group, 25 were correctly identified to have acute decompensated heart failure, and 16 other were found to have other cardiovascular issues, but not heart failure.
Diabetic patients who do not manage their blood sugar levels properly as more likely to be prone to dry mouth and gum disease. When blood sugar levels are at an imbalance, the body loses its strength to put up a proper fight against bacteria and infections, including those that harm your gums. Those same germs are what cause bad breath.
Sometimes, you might experience a fruity or acetone-like breath (a chemical present in nail polish remover). This is usually an indication of a serious complication called ketoacidosis in people who already have diabetes. This is when there is a buildup of acids in your blood caused due to inadequate amounts of insulin. If left untreated, this could lead to a diabetic coma, or even death.
5. Kidney Failure
Having fishy breath after a fishy meal is not exactly any concern, but if it persists, it might be time to consult a doctor. Breath that smells like a mixture of fish and urine, similar to ammonia, could be an indication of kidney failure.
As we know, the kidneys are in charge of getting rid of toxins and waste materials in the blood through urine. If they aren’t working properly, as in the case of kidney failure (aka end-stage renal disease), this function isn’t performed effectively. This means that waste material remains in the body and ends up affecting almost every part of it. The respiratory system could also be harmed, and that’s how you get fishy breath.
6. Sleeping Disorders
Almost everyone has morning breath after a good night’s sleep. This is because we produce less saliva while asleep, which allows odor-producing bacteria to grow at a faster rate.
For those with sleeping disorders like sleep apnea and snoring, this effect can be multiplied, resulting in worse morning breath than normal. This is because they tend to sleep with their mouths open as such disorders can cause difficulty in breathing. As a result, their breath smells really, really, bad!
7. Digestive Issues
A person with digestive problems will find it difficult to properly process the food they eat, and this can cause a whole lot of problems, including bad breath. In conditions like GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), and acid reflux, the food doesn’t go through the proper digestive channels. As a result improperly digested food can decay, or even regurgitate, both of which can cause halitosis. Common GERD symptoms include a combination of bad breath, teeth acid erosion, and throat inflammation.
Another digestive issue that can affect breath is stomach ulcer. The Lournal of Medical Microbiology states that a bacteria called H.pylori which causes ulcers in the stomach can also cause bad breath. In fact, breath tests are one of the ways to test for the bacteria.
When you have the flu, you might have noticed your breath smells kind of bad. This is because respiratory tract infections like bronchitis, sinusitis, and the flu can trigger the production of bacteria-feeding cells and mucus due to the inflammation of respiratory tissues.
Mucus buildup will clog noses, making it hard to breath. Similar to sleep apnea, this will make people breathe through their mouths, resulting in dry mouth and an increased production of foul-smelling bacteria.
9. Tooth Decay and Gingivitis
When your teeth is weakened and the enamel erodes, tiny holes can end up forming on them. As a result food particles get stuck in them. As your regular brushing routine will probably be unable to get rid of such materials, they end up decaying and growing bacteria. Not only can this cause infections, it also makes your breath smell really bad.
Gingivitis, a condition where the gums become inflamed due to a bacterial infection, can also be the cause of halitosis. Not only is this unpleasant, it can cause immense pain, and even tooth loss!