While around half of the human population suffers from some form of halitosis, nearly 90% of these diagnoses are due to poor oral hygiene.

A chronic condition, halitosis is caused predominantly by poor oral hygiene.

Bad breath is part and parcel of everyday life. Whether it’s the dreaded ‘morning breath’ after a good night’s sleep or the lingering effects of strong foods, mouth odour is something that requires constant attention. But there’s more to bad breath than these common examples, as our expert explains.

“Halitosis is the clinical term for bad breath,” says Stellenbosch-based dentist Dr Wiehann Basson. “It is a chronic condition caused predominantly by poor oral hygiene. I would estimate that around a quarter of my patients suffer from mild cases of halitosis, and a few have more serious forms.”

While statistics show that around half of the human population suffers from some form of halitosis, nearly 90% of these diagnoses are due to poor oral hygiene. Good digestion is dependent on proper chewing, but it is the chemical processing of lingering food particles stuck between the teeth that affects the breath. Various compounds are released as the food is broken down, thereby directly influencing breath odour.

“Food stuck between the teeth encourages an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria,” Dr Basson explains. “As the name suggests, this type of bacteria thrives in an environment without oxygen. Sulphur is one of the key compounds released, leading to bad breath.”

Dr Basson goes on to explain that saliva production is another process that directly impacts the freshness of one’s breath.

“People who suffer from a persistent dry mouth are more prone to halitosis,” he says. “Think of the sensation of a dry mouth when waking up in the morning: saliva production tends to cease overnight while sleeping, causing a higher rate of sulphur in the mouth, and in turn bad breath. Increased sulphur content usually means lower levels of saliva production and vice versa.

“While halitosis can also be caused by certain diets or stomach diseases, this is still a bit of grey area,” says Dr Basson. “Ongoing research is starting to show increased evidence of this, but it is difficult to assess whether or not these factors apply to the population in general.”

So, while the obvious preventative measures include proper brushing as well as flossing and using a mouthwash, what can people with more chronic forms of halitosis do to improve their oral health?

“More serious cases of halitosis require an antibacterial mouthwash,” says Dr Basson. “These products are much stronger than the everyday varieties and treat anaerobic bacteria build-up. Various antiseptic toothpastes can also be prescribed. But the main thing is to ensure optimal saliva flow. This helps to reduce one’s overall bacteria count, and can sometimes be achieved simply by chewing gum.”