Have you ever been in this awkward social situation? You’re up close and personal with someone whose breath is so foul you avoided inhaling through your nose? We all have. But what are the reasons that bad breath increases with age?
Halitosis, the medical term for bad breath, is a common and often embarrassing condition. Bad breath is more common as we age. According to a new report, globally, we will spend over $23 billion to avoid it by 2026. We purchase mouthwash, mints, sprays, drops, gums, and many other products to prevent revolting mouth odor.
When we consume meals laden with garlic, onions, curry, etc., we’re surprised to notice people leaning away when we speak. But chronic halitosis can be caused by improper or infrequent brushing and flossing, tooth decay, acid reflux, GERD (a form of reflux in the lower esophagus), gum disease, rare dental visits, smoking, or drinking alcohol.
While a malodorous mouth is mortifying at any age, the physiological changes that occur with aging make the oral cavity more susceptible to odiferous changes that are anything but pleasant.
Your mouth, like your gut, contains thousands of bacteria. Some are good bacteria, and some are bad bacteria. It is the bad bacteria (anaerobic bacteria) that cause bad breath. They love the nooks and crannies in your mouth, especially the ones between your teeth and under your gum line. When allowed to multiply, these nasty critters emit smelly, sulfurous compounds. And, that’s what causes bad breath.
5 Reasons Bad Breath Increases With Age
- Less Saliva
Saliva is nature’s mouth deodorizer. But as you get older, your salivary glands produce less. There’s usually plenty of saliva in a young and healthy mouth to help wash away the food particles that get caught between your teeth and under the gum line. Saliva also acts as a natural lubricant that prevents food from sticking to the many surfaces in the mouth, including your teeth, tongue, cheeks, and gums. Reduced saliva means a drier mouth that enables food to adhere to these areas and helps perpetuate an environment in which anaerobic and sulfur-producing bacteria thrive.
Many common medications can also cause dry mouth. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are hundreds of drugs where dry mouth is a documented side effect, and unfortunately, many people over 50 are on them.
“Among the more likely types to cause problems are some of the drugs used to treat depression, high blood pressure, and anxiety, as well as some antihistamines, decongestants, muscle relaxants, and pain medications.”
Less saliva and medications result in a dry mouth, but dehydration is a problem for older adults, as well. Dehydration can set in more quickly as you age, especially when it’s sweltering outside or during exercise. While exercise is undoubtedly a good idea as you age, you must be more mindful of replenishing the fluids you lose in sweat. Increasing fluids during workouts not only makes you feel better (at any age) but also lowers the chance your breath will knock over your tennis partner when you high-five him.
- Poor-Fitting Dental Work
Another reason bad breath is more common as you age is poor-fitting dental work. Few people reach the ripe old age of 50 without a filling, a crown, a bridge, or even dentures. Over time, these dental restorations can become loose, cracked, or broken and create nooks and crannies where bad bacteria love to hang out. This condition can also create reservoirs for food and saliva to collect and decompose (not very different from composting!).
- Chronic Sinusitis
The maxillary sinus commonly becomes larger as you age due to a process known as pneumatization. On top of that, the area of your nose called the nasal valve region can narrow, and it makes it harder for your sinuses to drain which can lead to chronic sinusitis and sinus infections.
Sinusitis (inflammation of the nasal sinuses) is sixth on the list of most common ailments reported by seniors. According to The Administration On Aging the most frequently occurring conditions among older persons are:
- Uncontrolled hypertension (34%)
- Diagnosed arthritis (50%)
- All types of heart disease (32%)
- Any cancer (23%)
- Diabetes (19%)
- Sinusitis (14%)
Sinusitis can also cause chronic postnasal drip that constantly floods your mouth with odoriferous bacteria. When you breathe through your mouth because your nose is stuffy, it can get very dry, as well — the perfect situation for halitosis to develop.
Bad Breath Increases With Age – Here’s How To Avoid It
Now that you know why bad breath increases with age, you can take steps to prevent it from ruining your social life. For the most part, mouthwashes and breath mints can provide a temporary fix. But, they don’t eliminate the underlying causes of bad breath any more than perfume or cologne corrects poor personal hygiene. Here’s what I recommend:
- See Your Dentist: If you keep up with your dental checkups and cleanings, you have a much better chance to avoid bad breath as you age. Cleanings remove most of the organic material that causes bacteria to form, and it enables your dentist to keep your dental work in tip-top shape.
- For Sinus Problems: Seek the care of an ENT if you have chronic sinusitis or active sinus infections. Sometimes acute or chronic infections of your upper molars can cause an odontogenic sinus infection. Your dentist will determine if a root canal or a tooth extraction will help.
- Buy a Tongue Scraper: Tongue scrapers are handy tools that can help reduce the number of bacteria in your mouth. Also, brush your tongue while brushing your teeth – one or two good swipes are plenty. And make sure you rinse thoroughly.
- Mouthwash: If your diet causes your halitosis, a good swish with a strong mouthwash can help. But, if your bad breath is because of your dry mouth, don’t use brands that contain alcohol – they will make your mouth even more parched.
- Non-Alcoholic Mouth Rinse: I frequently recommend a mouth rinse such as Biotene® when an older patient complains of dry mouth. They are as effective at killing “bad” bacteria as alcohol-based mouthwashes but are much gentler to gums and mouth tissue. And they don’t make your dry mouth even drier.
There are enough things to worry about as you get older – bad breath doesn’t have to be one of them! Now that you understand why bad breath increases with age and how to prevent it, there’s one less thing to worry about.
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