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Halitosis: Save Your Breath
Visiting the dentist can help prevent that all-too-common affliction: bad breath. Read on for our exploration of the dreaded halitosis.
At one point in Vladimir Nabokov's 1962 novel Pale Fire, the manic narrator, Charles Kinbote, receives a note from a colleague that reads, "You have hal . . . . . s real bad, chum." Kinbote instinctively interprets this as an accusation that he suffers from hallucinations, rather than the more obvious—albeit more embarrassing—diagnosis: halitosis, or bad breath.
Despite Kinbote's reluctance to even acknowledge his affliction, he hardly suffered alone—halitosis affects many people. Often accompanied by a whitish coating on the tongue, the condition can be both a straightforward result of smoking cigarettes and eating limburger cheese or, worse, indicative of severe health problems, such as diabetes, liver disease, or an infection in the gums, sinuses, or throat. Although a serious disorder for at least 20% of the population, halitosis is for most people merely a nuisance, coming and going depending on these three major factors:
Diet: Foods and beverages heavy in flavor or acidity, including garlic, exotic spices, and coffee, can heavily affect mouth odor, clinging to the breath for up to 72 hours after digestion. The essence of certain foods, such as onions, can also enter the bloodstream via the stomach, transferring their unpleasant fragrance to the lungs to be eked out during exhalation.
Saliva Levels: Saliva acts as a key player in keeping mouth odor under control, naturally washing away potentially offensive food particles and smelly bacteria. Due to a lack of competitive overtime pay for salivary glands, the lowest levels of saliva production occur during sleep, which explains the common phenomenon known as morning breath. Without saliva to ward them off, bacteria accumulate and thrive during the night—an effect exacerbated by breathing through the mouth while sleeping.
Oral Hygiene: Having a daily brushing regimen is crucial to battling the foul aftereffects of strong foods and low saliva levels. Dentists recommend brushing at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, hitting the often-neglected areas of the cheeks, gums, and roof where bad odor can fester. Flossing to remove rogue food particles and scraping the tongue can also help mitigate bad breath, leaving you feeling safe calling a date on the telephone.