What causes bad breath?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

bad breath bears
Even animals have bad breath. Can you imagine what a bear’s mouth smells like after it’s been gobbling up salmon all day?

The stench of bad breath – medically known as “halitosis” – comes in many shapes, forms, and definitely smells. Believe it or not, there are more causes for bad breath than just forgetting to brush your teeth in the morning, ranging from eating garlic to having a serious medical condition.

You see, there are billions upon billions of bacteria inside of our mouths, and they feast on the food that we eat. Long after the meal is done, however, the bacteria are still munching away on the particles of food jammed in between those pearly whites. As they break down the food, they produce a super smelly gas called sulfur. This is why it’s important to brush your teeth at least twice a day, to remove those pieces of food that would otherwise cause a foul stench.

Some foods have more of an effect than others. Take garlic, for example. After a garlic-rich meal, the body begins to digest the herb, and different compounds will make their way into the bloodstream. The oils from the food will eventually head into the lungs, where their noxious odor fills a person’s breath. No matter how many mints you pop into your mouth, that nasty scent will only go away once the body’s done digesting the herb.

There are also other instances where using a toothbrush or mouthwash does nothing more than to mask the smell of bad breath, such as with medical illnesses. In a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis (try saying that 3 times fast!), the body doesn’t properly break down glucose – a simple sugar – for energy, so it relies on brown fat. The process creates a byproduct known as ketones, which builds up in the blood. This build-up causes a person to experience breath that actually smells sweet or fruity.

In a different medical condition known as chronic kidney failure, the person’s breath isn’t so sweet. As you might know, the kidneys are responsible for cleaning out toxins and other waste products from our body, which we then release after a trip to the restroom. As the organs slowly start to fail, however, these toxins build up, and eventually a person is left with “fishy” smelling breath that no amount of brushing can remove.

So, unless you’re suffering from a serious medical condition, there’s almost no reason for you to have bad breath!

Featured image courtesy of JudeanPeoplesFront on Flickr. Image of bad breath bears courtesy of Svenimal on DeviantArt.