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Sudden Bad Breath: Is It a Dental Emergency?

Sudden Bad Breath: Is It a Dental Emergency?

Most people experience some form of bad breath every now and then. After all, “morning breath” is normal upon waking, just as stinky breath is common after a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, or a garlicky meal. Luckily, temporary bad breath is easy to manage with attentive oral hygiene habits. 

But for about 1 in 4 people worldwide, chronic halitosis — which is a combination of the Latin “halitus” for breath and the Greek “osis” for disease — is a daily reality. 

Caused by sulfur-producing bacteria along the tongue and throat, chronic bad breath is like a warning sign that indicates an underlying problem. Finding the root cause of halitosis is the first step toward resolving the issue. 

But what about foul-smelling breath that comes on suddenly? Is it cause for concern — or even a possible dental emergency? Here, our expert team at Smiles in Springfield discusses the various possible causes of bad breath, including when a sudden case of halitosis should prompt you to come to our office.

A short tutorial on halitosis 

Most cases of bad breath are the product of sulfur-producing bacteria that naturally live on the surface of your tongue and along the esophageal tissues that line your throat. When these bacteria start breaking down proteins at a very high rate, they release odorous volatile sulfur compounds (VSC) that have a strong, foul smell. 

Bad breath is often accompanied by one or more of the following:

While it’s tempting to brush your teeth, swish with mouthwash, suck on a mint, or chew a piece of gum every time you notice bad breath, these temporary remedies don’t address the root cause of halitosis.

What can cause bad breath?

Halitosis is usually an oral health concern, but bad breath can be a symptom of other health conditions, too. Determining why you have bad breath is the first step in getting the treatment you need to put an end to the problem.

Most common cause

About 90% of the time, bad breath originates in the oral cavity — usually as a result of poor oral hygiene habits. When you don’t brush thoroughly twice a day, floss properly once a day, and see us for dental exams and cleanings twice a year, it’s much easier for harmful bacteria to invade your mouth and multiply out of control. 

In addition to increasing your risk of developing cavities and periodontal (gum) disease, poor oral hygiene habits effectively set the stage for halitosis. 

In fact, the very same mechanisms that lead to dental decay as well as gum inflammation and infection are also what cause bad breath; or, to put another way, halitosis is often a sign of a flourishing oral infection.

Other potential causes

Outside of poor oral hygiene and its consequences, there are several other possible reasons for bad breath; most fall into two general categories:

Other oral causes

Dry mouth, an oral health condition characterized by a lack of saliva, is strongly associated with halitosis. Dry mouth can be a side effect of taking certain medications, a product of smoking, or a sign of another health condition. 

Bad breath can also come from bacteria-covered, odor-emitting stones that form in the tonsils; sometimes, it’s the result of an infection following oral surgery, like a tooth extraction

Health conditions

Bad breath can be a symptom of a respiratory infection or its effects, frequently occurring with sinusitis, chronic bronchitis, and post-nasal drip. 

Metabolic disorders like diabetes cause the body to produce breath-fouling chemicals, and the chronic backflow of stomach acids caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also lead to halitosis. 

Is sudden halitosis concerning?

Given that most cases of bad breath stem from an oral health or hygiene issue, it’s a good idea to schedule a visit with our team any time you have concerns about halitosis symptoms. This includes sudden bad breath, particularly if it’s very strong or foul. This could be a sign of:

Sudden bad breath is especially concerning if it’s accompanied by sharp, throbbing, or aching tooth pain, which can indicate the presence of a root-inflaming dental infection (abscess) that requires prompt care. 

Likewise, if your sudden bad breath occurs along with gum redness and swelling or a vile taste in your mouth, it may be a sign of a flaring gum infection. 

When to seek expert evaluation

In the absence of other oral symptoms, see if brushing and flossing can clear up your sudden bad breath. If it doesn’t go away in a day or two, give us a call. And always contact us if you experience sudden halitosis along with a toothache, bleeding gums, or other worrisome oral symptoms. 

If you’re worried about sudden bad breath — or even chronic bad breath — we can help. To learn more or schedule a visit with Dr. Quang Tran or Dr. Truc Duong at Smiles in Springfield in Springfield, Virginia, give us a call at 703-595-2403 today.

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