Oral Care

Unlocking Fresh Breath: The Dry Mouth Connection

Reviewed by: Dirna Grobbelaar

Did you know there’s a close connection between a dry mouth and bad breath? Discover the latest insights on halitosis and how to bring a breath of fresh air to your oral care routine.

Concern that your breath might smell unpleasant is something most people can relate to, especially before significant events like a date or an important meeting. When you’re feeling nervous your mouth can become dry. It turns out there’s a direct link between dry mouth and bad breath. 

Our oral hygiene advisor, Dirna Grobbelaar, unpacks this connection and gives expert advice on how to tackle this awkward issue.

What causes bad breath?
The South African Dental Association (SADA) and the Oral Hygienists’ Association of South Africa (OHASA), agree with the research – oral issues are the primary culprit when it comes to bad breath, aka halitosis.

Other common causes include pungent food and drinks (like garlic), smoking tobacco and several medical conditions, including sinus infections, respiratory disease and gastrointestinal issues.

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Oral Investigation identified microbial imbalances – in the mouth and gut – as another cause. Probiotics have been shown to provide short-term relief. On that note, Olgani Probiom is a locally made, all-natural toothpaste containing pre-and probiotics.

Another recent discovery is that a genetic mutation may be to blame for persistent ‘boiled cabbage’ breath.

The dry mouth connection
There’s a powerful connection with dryness because the bacteria that cause bad breath thrive in a dry environment. 
This is why you may experience whiffy morning breath – it’s “normal” according to the South African Dental Association (SADA). Dirna explains: “The body produces almost no saliva when you sleep. Saliva is nature’s way of rinsing the mouth. When there’s less saliva, the bacteria feast on dead cells and debris, releasing foul-smelling compounds in the process.”

This is exacerbated by breathing through the mouth, which makes the mouth even drier.

If drinking water doesn’t alleviate a thirsty sensation, you may have a chronic condition called ‘dry mouth,’ medically known as xerostomia. Dry mouth is a common side effect of more than 400 medications. It is also linked to hormonal changes (such as menopause) and autoimmune conditions, including diabetes and Sjogren’s syndrome. It can be relieved using a saliva substitute, such as GUM Hydral, designed to hydrate and soothe dry, irritated mouth tissue and available over the counter at pharmacies.

Oral hygienist-approved fresh breath fixes
When it comes to beating bad breath, whether caused by dry mouth or any other oral issue – dental experts agree that meticulous oral hygiene is critical. 

Contrary to popular belief, sucking mints is not a lasting solution for halitosis; an effective daily oral care routine will have far more impact. This involves brushing correctly, for at least two minutes twice a day, as well as daily interdental cleaning. 
Bacteria love to hide where your toothbrush can’t reach so use floss or another interdental tool to remove plaque and food debris from between the teeth. Dirna recommends using whatever you find easiest to clean in between as you will be more likely to do it regularly – daily practice produces the best results!

Floss and interdental tools vary hugely in quality and efficacy; you want to ensure you don’t damage your gums. Dirna is a huge fan of GUM Soft-Picks, a high-tech version of a traditional toothpick because they are soft, gentle and can comfortably reach every area of the mouth. 

Another hiding place for bacteria is the back of the tongue. Gently scrape it daily to remove plaque and food debris. Rinsing with an alcohol-free mouthwash is a good final step. Alcohol dries out the mouth and is best avoided.

When to seek professional advice
Understanding the connection between fresh breath and your oral hygiene routine empowers you to take charge and kiss bad breath goodbye, for good.

If you find an unpleasant odour persists, it’s time to seek professional advice. Dirna recommends booking an appointment with your dentist or oral hygienist if your breath smells bad for more than two weeks.

For more detailed advice, check out our guides on how to tackle bad breath, bleeding gums and dry mouth. For personalised advice, see your dental professional. 

If you’d like to hear Dirna explain how to beat bad breath and what to do about bleeding gums, listen to this interview with Pippa Hudson on 567mw Cape Talk.

Aetiology and associations of halitosis: A systematic review: Maaz Anwer MemonHifza Anwer MemonFaizan E MuhammadShehzad FahadAmna SiddiquiKa Yiu LeeMuhammad Junaid TahirZohaib Yousaf https://doi.org/10.1111/odi.14172
Pol A, Renkema GH, Tangerman A, Winkel EG, Engelke UF, de Brouwer APM, Lloyd KC, Araiza RS, van den Heuvel L, Omran H, Olbrich H, Oude Elberink M, Gilissen C, Rodenburg RJ, Sass JO, Schwab KO, Schäfer H, Venselaar H, Sequeira JS, Op den Camp HJM, Wevers RA. Mutations in SELENBP1, encoding a novel human methanethiol oxidase, cause extraoral halitosis. Nat Genet. 2018 Jan;50(1):120-129. doi: 10.1038/s41588-017-0006-7. Epub 2017 Dec 18. PMID: 29255262; PMCID: PMC5742538. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5742538/
Li Z, Li J, Fu R, Liu J, Wen X, Zhang L. Halitosis: etiology, prevention, and the role of microbiota. Clin Oral Investig. 2023 Nov;27(11):6383-6393. doi: 10.1007/s00784-023-05292-9. Epub 2023 Oct 16. PMID: 37843633. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/12/12/e060753
Huang N, Li J, Qiao X, Wu Y, Liu Y, Wu C, Li L. Efficacy of probiotics in the management of halitosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2022 Dec 20;12(12):e060753. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-060753. PMID: 36600415; PMCID: PMC9809225. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36600415/

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