Most of us are acutely aware of our breath, making sure to take care of our oral health properly. Typically, this involves a regular routine of brushing, flossing and rinsing with a mouthwash. In some cases, people also frequently use a water flosser. Others are even going so far as to try oil-pulling, during which a person swishes bacteria-attracting coconut oil in their mouth for several minutes to extract (and subsequently get rid of) germs in a more natural manner.
With all of this attention to keeping our mouth in shape, one would make the assumption that our breath is constantly pleasant. Sure, we all get a case of morning or garlic breath, but what does it mean when—despite efforts to floss and brush often—your breath is still bad? The reality is that if your breath carries an unusual odor that transcends the smell associated with habits like drinking coffee or smoking, it could be a sign of underlying health issues.
First things first: check the obvious
According to the Mayo Clinic, starting with the obvious is key to understanding the root of bad or out-of-the-ordinary mouth odor. They state that many areas of oral health are often overlooked, such as when people fail to brush the tongue (which harbors a host of bacteria).
Experts there also say that while people may tend to their teeth, tongue, and gums, they may focus less on appliances such as dentures, partials or retainers. Keeping those clean with just as much vigor as the actual mouth is also important.
From sinusitis to more chronic conditions, what different breath odors may mean
However, when bad odor continues to persist, it could be because of tiny stones that develop in the tonsils. These stones are covered with bacteria that produce unpleasant smelling chemicals. Dr. Harold Katz, a dentist ¬who focuses on bacteriology, says that such an odor might smell like rotting flesh. “It’s actually sulfur-producing bacteria that are so deep in the tonsils that it can’t easily be remedied by simply brushing and rinsing. It’s this sulphuric smell that makes the breath smell so bad when someone is suffering from tonsillitis or tonsil stones,” Katz says.
Therefore, a visit to an ENT may be in order, as bad breath could indicate chronic inflammation or an infection in your sinus, nose or throat. The cause of constant bad breath could even be a case of postnasal drip, so it’s best to check with an expert to determine the source.
Unusual-smelling breath could also be caused by diabetic ketoacidosis, which basically means that the body is unable to sufficiently break down glucose for energy. Instead, it breaks down body fat, which in turn creates chemicals that result in the sweet-smelling, fruity breath. While that may sound pleasant, it’s still unusual, and it should be looked into by a medical professional—it may lead to a potentially damaging buildup of chemicals in the blood and urine.
At its worst, changes in breath could indicate much more serious health problems. Sadly, late-state liver failure is linked to the musty, yet sweet-smelling breath. So important is this finding that medical experts are even considering breath analysis as an approach to detecting and diagnosing liver pathologies; the possibility has even been presented in established medical journals.
Another disheartening finding is that unusual-smelling breath may indicate chronic kidney failure. In that case, the breath may smell fishy or ammonia-like, which is the result of unusually high concentrations of an organic compound in the saliva.
In every instance, it’s important to visit a dentist or general practitioner to discuss what could be happening to produce such smells. Bad breath could indicate anything from a chronic, life-threatening condition to postnasal drip, a change in diet, or slacking off in your oral hygiene routine.