Halitosis or bad breath is a highly offensive problem that causes a foul odor to be emitted from your mouth and nasal regions as you exhale. A person suffering from this problem might not be aware of it as the air that we exhale generally does not reach our nostrils, and even if it does, we become immune to the malodor because we constantly smell it. It is only when there is a social rebuff or somebody directly confronts a halitosis sufferer that this condition becomes apparent to the sufferer.
The main reason for bad breath is the production of volatile sulfur compounds in the mouth. These sulfur compounds are extremely foul smelling and evaporate instantly even at room temperature, thereby leading to bad breath. Food substances such as onions and garlic that contain sulfur compounds are common causes of bad breath.
Role of Proteins in Causing Halitosis
Proteins are made up of amino acids. These amino acids, especially cysteine and methionine emit a very foul smelling sulfur compound. Cysteine is changed to hydrogen sulphide by the bacteria present in our mouths; hydrogen sulfide has a very nasty smell like that of rotten eggs. Similarly, methionine is converted into methyl marcaptan which smells like garlic, a highly offensive odor.
Protein rich foods such as dairy products, meat and fish should ideally be avoided by a person susceptible to halitosis. A person’s mouth has both good and bad bacteria. Certain bacteria which are present at the back of the tongue and throat are responsible for the breakdown of proteins and their conversion to volatile sulfur compounds. These are termed anaerobic bacteria as they need an environment without oxygen to grow and reproduce. While we need these bacteria to aid with food digestion, an excessive amount can lead to halitosis.
People with poor oral hygiene generally have a layer of plaque present on their tongues and gums; plaque is ideal for anaerobic bacteria to thrive as it is deprived of oxygen. Protein rich substances also have a tendency to leave deposits on the tongue and cheeks which further aggravate the plaque problem thereby helping the bad breath-causing bacteria to flourish further.
People who are lactose intolerant are generally unable to digest dairy products such as milk and yogurt very quickly. Thus these are readily available for the bacteria for a much longer time than normal, which helps them grow and exacerbates the halitosis problem.
TMA or Trimethylaminuria
This is a medical condition in which a person is unable to digest and break down proteins that are found in beans and some other forms of proteins. This leads to a fishlike smell being emanated from the mouth caused by a mixture of sulfur and nitrogen compounds.
There are several medicines and mouthwashes present in the market that claim to completely remove anaerobic bacteria from your mouth. However, this is just not possible; instead, for effective fighting of halitosis, the volatile sulfur compounds produced should be quickly converted to odorless and tasteless substances that can be easily dealt with by the body.