A 5 year old boy presented at A&E 1 am. Mother complained of terrible mouth/body odour and one sided catarrh/runny nose of 4 days duration. She personally brushed his teeth 3 times and made him gargle mouth wash over 4 times that day but the smell appeared to be worsening. The night before coming to A&E the odour was unbearable, it appeared his clothes, bedsheets and pillows were all smelling in his room so she changed everything, deodorized the room, bath the child for the third time that day but within 2 hours the odour returned. At A&E they wondered why we were there, he was sent to the ENT doctor on call who examined his nostrils with a touch and saw stuff pushed right up the nose. It took over 2 hours to get out a bead, pieces of cotton wool and paper all pus covered and bloody, the young man had tucked into his nose! He was sent home on antibiotics and within a day the smell was all gone!
Mouth odour aka halitosis refers to unpleasant odour emanating from the mouth. It can be caused by a number of factors such as low oral hygiene, dry mouth, dental cavities, bacteria and plaque build-up in the mouth from food caught between teeth, dentures especially ill-fitting ones, or medical conditions or diseases of the respiratory or digestive system.
The mouth could smell simply because you have not spoken in hours, you are fasting or just woke up from a nap or you did not brush your tongue properly. To check, cup your mouth and nose with your hands and breath/blow your breath in, if it smells you will know. Simply rinsing mouth or using a breath mint will chase most it away if no underlying medical cause.
Causes of mouth odor – dry mouth, food, dental hygiene, ill health
Hundreds of bacteria live in our mouths and some of them—on the tongue or below the gum-line or in pockets created by gum disease between gums and teeth. If you let food and sweets linger around the teeth and gums (not brushing before going to bed)it contributes to causing cavities, bacteria can then hide in these cavities, grow, multiply and produce offensive odours.
The foul oral odour is usually caused by a group of anaerobic, sulphur-producing bacteria that breed beneath the surface of the tongue and often in the throat and tonsil area. The term “anaerobic” literally means living without air, and in fact, these bacteria do not require oxygen to live. They occur naturally in the mouth and are essential, they assist in digestion by breaking down proteins into amino acids. Proteins are commonly found in food, mucus or phlegm, blood, and in diseased oral tissue
- Uncontrolled diabetes giving rise to ketoacidosis (fat breakdown into ketones for body fuel gives your breath a fruity odour)
- Drymouth (saliva has an antimicrobial effect), due to certain drug (birth-control pills, nasal decongestants, anti-depressants, anti-histamins diet pills) side effects, medical conditions e.g. Sjogren’s disease or scleredema; sleeping with your mouth open, and dehydration
- Infections such as sore mouth, sore throat or chronic sinusitis, gum infections, enlarged tonsils with deep tunnels can trap food particles and cause the mouth to smell
- Foreign body in the nose, allergies, and post-nasal drips can make your breath smell sour, even you will smell your breath
- Intestinal disorders, such as heartburn, excessive use of antacids, ulcers, digestive system bacterial overgrowth or lactose intolerance
- Food, such as coffee, sweets, meat,garlic, onions or alcohol, can temporarily cause bad breath
- Smoking, chewing or even using smokeless tobacco or snuff
Whatever the cause, treatment involves correcting the underlying disorder—and/or perhaps trying a few easy solutions from
Ways to fight bad breath:
- If you wear dentures, remove them at night and clean then store in saline water to get rid of bacterial build-up from food and drink
- Drink plenty of water and swish water around in your mouth especially after eating to rid mouth of food particles
- Brush preferably twice a day, scrape your tongue in the morning, floss at least once a day
- Replace your toothbrush every two to three months
- Have a dental check at least once a year, fill cavities, remove nonredeemable teeth
- Deep breathing exercises
- Nasal wash out or surgery for infected sinuses
- Chew bitter kola, small piece of fresh ginger, mint leaf, parsley or basil leaf; their antiseptic qualities help fight bacteria and the chlorophyll in the green plants neutralizes odours
- Add a piece of lemon or orange rind to your cup of warm water or squeeze a table spoon of lime/lemon into your drinking water for a mouth- freshening burst of flavour. If fasting use it to rinse your mouth at least three times a day
- Mix a cup of water with a teaspoon of baking soda and use as a mouth-wash/rinse or even use the baking powder to brush your teeth; the bacteria that cause bad breath thrive in acidic oral environment. Brushing your teeth with baking soda helps neutralize excess acids found in the oral cavity
- Add these dietary supplements to your regime: Vitamins B and C, liquorice, alfalfa
- Eat fibrous fruits and vegetables, raw crunchy foods clean the teeth – carrots,walnuts, pear, apples for instance contain pectin, which helps control food odours and promotes saliva production
- Cinnamon is antimicrobial, active cultures in yogurt, pro-biotics help reduce odour-causing bacteria in the mouth
- Chewing stick – going back to our roots. African chewing stick also called Licorice Root, were used as a toothbrush by our forefathers and still used in some places. Chewing sticks contain fluoride and other medicinal properties. They can be got from different species of trees including guava. The chewing action helps clean the teeth, freshen the breath, to clean in between teeth after meals and to prevent smoking. Several studies have demonstrated the anti-plaque, anti-carious and antibacterial effect of these sticks.
- Stimulate your salivary flow – Prevent dry mouth with chewing gum, lozenges, or mints that are sugar free. Look for Xylitol, a non-sucrose sweetener, which in recent years has been shown to have anti-cavity properties.
Whilst body and mouth odor are often cases that do not require medical attention, there are some instances where it may need the attention of a doctor.Please see your doctor if:
- You start sweating at night
- You start sweating much more than you normally do, without any logical reason
- You have cold sweats
- Sweating disrupts your daily routine
- Your body smells differently – if it is a fruity smell it could be due to diabetes, liver or kidney disease often makes the individual have a bleach-like smell.
Are there causes we did not mention? Do you have questions? Please ask, your contributions are priceless.