Dental Care

Main Causes of Halitosis

What are the main causes of halitosis?

The biggest culprits known for causing halitosis - more commonly known as bad breath- are the various bacteria that live and thrive in your mouth. 

Read on to learn exactly what they are and how to deal with them. 

First you're going to learn a new word:  Noisome.  It refers to the effect of too many bacteria having a party in your mouth. 

But they're not making noise; they're creating that nasty odor associated with halitosis.  Noisome means something that smells bad. 

In search of the main causes of halitosis, let's take a look at how and why bacteria cause odor.

Bacteria are organic and alive.  They consume food and excrete waste.  The bacteria look for protein sources, which they find in the form of dead skin cells and in food particles inside your mouth.  That's the consumption phase.

During the excretory phase, they form sulfur compounds. When these compounds are ignited by the warmth of your breath, they evaporate very quickly -and that's when people smell bad breath.  

If you are suffering from bad breath, then sulfur compounds are likely to be one of the causes of halitosis.  If you ask your dentist about sulfur compounds, he will most likely refer to them as volatile sulfur compounds or VSC´s.  The word "volatile" refers to their rapid evaporation rate.

Why are the sulfur compounds so noisome?  Sulfur has been used by man since at least the third century.  It smelled so bad that people figured it had to be useful in wiping out illnesses, and it was suitable for whitening cloth.

If you can't imagine the smell of sulfur, think of driving along a country road on a nice, breezy evening, until your nose is assaulted by an acrid odor wafting on the air. Decomposing sewage and the bacteria in garbage bins owe their aromas to sulfur. If you've ever smelled a rotten egg, you know the smell of sulfur. 

Sulfur is not the only biochemical present in the causes of halitosis.  The other components of this nasty potpourri include methyl mercaptan, which gives off the odor of rotten cabbage.  It's a common component of flatus.  This gas forms from several causes, including its presence in certain foods.  Cadaverine and its cousin, putrescine, are other gases that result from the breakdown of your sloughed-off cells. 

Skatole is also present, produced from the natural amino acids in our diets.  As it ages in that noxious compound on the tongue, it emits the odor of feces. 

You will also find isovaleric acid, a byproduct of natural fatty acids produced by essential oils and plants.  It gives off the smell of sweaty feet. 

Causes of Halitosis - The Place of The Crime

The back of your tongue is the perfect breeding place for these bacteria.  The bacteria thrive in a solution made up of the dead skin cells and particles of food that they use for food, and even sinus drainage that you accumulate from postnasal drip.  Sulfur compounds form within this perfect medium, and they emit the noxious odor that our best friends and coworkers notice. 

Keep in mind that this medium -which you see as a whitish coating on the back of the tongue- provides an anaerobic environment for the growth of bacteria. The word anaerobic refers to the fact that, as thin as this layer is, oxygen cannot penetrate it. And many of these bacteria thrive in the absence of oxygen. 

The bacteria in this whitish coating fight for dominance with harmless bacteria that don't cause bad breath.  The bio-conditions of your mouth work to sustain a harmonious balance between good and bad bacteria. When the bad bacteria overwhelm the good kind, you have all the conditions for the main causes of halitosis. And that's when a person's breath problems get really serious. 

This whitish coating is very much like plaque - the sticky substance that accumulates between the spaces of your teeth and along gum lines.  When plaque in those areas becomes excessive, it creates ideal conditions for the VSC’s on the back of your tongue to grow out of control. 

If you're reading this because you're the one who has been plagued by halitosis, you're probably thinking that the whitish coating you've been able to see is barely noticeable. Keep in mind that a coating as thin as 0.1 to 0.2 millimeters permits VSC's to thrive.

Even in such a thin layer of coating, oxygen is shut out, and the anaerobic activity of the bacteria continues.  And we've mentioned elsewhere in the introductory article to this section that the whitish coating is impervious to routine oral hygiene regimens

Ultimately, as the amount of plaque increases, the bad bacteria win their foothold in your mouth and flourish.  If this problem goes unattended, your breath will smell worse as time goes on.  You can't just hold your breath to solve the causes of halitosis.

In a separate article, we will provide information about the link between the foods you eat and the bacteria that proliferate in your mouth. 


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