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Posted: April 03, 2009

Keeping Seniors Healthy

Do Seniors Get Bad Breath More Often?

Q. I was wondering if older people get bad breath more than younger folks. Sometimes the smell from Dad’s mouth when he talks is enough to make me ill.

A. I could find no direct link between aging and halitosis, which is the fancy term for bad breath. However, I'm going to take a couple of educated stabs at the issue raised in this question.

Many older people have dentures. If they don't fit correctly or are not cleaned often, they can collect food and bacteria; both can lead to bad breath.

Dry mouth (xerostomia) is a condition that allows dead cells to accumulate in your mouth creating bad breath. Most xerostomia is related to the medications taken by older adults rather than to the effects of aging. More than 400 medicines can affect the salivary glands.

The following are causes of bad breath:

• Any food stuck in your teeth. It will decay and give off an odor.

• Some foods such as onions, garlic, spices and herbs. They contain substances that create bad breath when digested.

• Alcoholic beverages. Alcohol, itself, is odorless, but many alcoholic beverages contain ingredients that leave a telltale odor.

• Periodontal (gum) diseases and canker sores.

• Diseases of the lung, kidney, liver, stomach and pancreas.

• Sinus infections, strep throat, tonsillitis and mononucleosis.

• Smoking. This dries the mouth and causes an odor of its own.

• Severe dieting.

That said, here are some ways to prevent bad breath:

• Brush your teeth after you eat.

• If you wear a denture, clean it at least once a day.

• Floss daily or use another inter-dental cleaner such as a high-power electric toothbrush.

• Brush your tongue, which can collect bacteria and food particles.

• Drink water to moisten your mouth.

• Chew sugarless gum. It stimulates saliva production and collects debris.

• Buy a new toothbrush several times annually.

• Get a dental examination.

Mouthwashes and breath-fresheners of all kinds mask odors for a while, but they are not preventives. Many antiseptic mouth rinses, however, have been accepted by the American Dental Association for their therapeutic benefits and also have breath-freshening properties. These rinses kill the germs that cause bad breath instead of simply hiding halitosis.

At times, most of us worry about having bad breath. It's no surprise that there are so many products out there to combat the problem. But those of us who worry about it usually are doing something to prevent it. Bad breath is found more often in people who neither know nor care that they have it.

This brings me to a condition worth mentioning. There is a psychiatric condition called "delusional halitosis." This is linked to depression. One patient with this delusion used up to a tube of toothpaste every four days!

I read another study which demonstrated that the people who try to smell their own breath tend to think their breath smells worse than it does. The best advice I found was to ask a family member or good friend to give you an accurate assessment.


Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at fred@healthygeezer.com.

© 2009 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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