Mouthwash may be wrong weapon against bad breath


June 07, 1994|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

Everyone worries about bad breath. No one wants to repel a loved one or a colleague. How many times have you passed up the onions on a tasty sandwich for fear of offending?

Advertisers exploit these anxieties to create concern about "morning breath" or "dragon mouth." As a consequence, Americans spend millions on mouthwash and breath mints. Most of that money is wasted.

Everyone wakes up with a stale taste in the mouth. It's the result of bacteria building up overnight due to oral inactivity. This generally clears up with brushing your teeth, sipping your morning juice or talking.

Onions, garlic and other smelly foods can contribute to temporary bad breath. Mouthwash won't help, since the odor comes from the lungs.

For most people, dietary discretion and good dental hygiene forestall any problem with bad breath.

But one reader told us: "My daughter had halitosis but hers smelled almost like a chemical. . . . I knew it wasn't ordinary bad breath so I took her to an allergist, who told us her large tonsils were catching food in their folds. First he ruled out diabetes, then went ahead and removed her tonsils. She hasn't had a problem since."

Stan told us after years of suffering with ulcers he was treated for Helicobacter pylori, a bacterial infection believed responsible for many persistent ulcers. After a successful antibiotic program, Stan was astonished to find that his long-standing bad breath had disappeared.

For those with detectable bad breath, specialists to consult include a dentist, a periodontist or an ear, nose and throat specialist.

A thorough diagnostic workup is essential to rule out diabetes, liver disease or kidney failure. Infection could also be the culprit. Gum disease, tonsillitis, sinus infection or a lung problem may all contribute. Really chronic halitosis is usually a signal that all is not well. It may take persistence and determination to find the cause.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutritionist.

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