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Senior Correspondent

Q: I was wondering if older people get bad breath more than younger folks.

A:I could find no direct correlation 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.

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 interdental 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; 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. Best advice I found was to ask a family member or good friend to give you an accurate assessment.

If you would like to read more columns, you can order a copy of “How to be a Healthy Geezer” at www.healthygeezer.com

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