It’s one of those office situations or social moments we’ve all had and would love to avoid. You’re having a conversation with someone, and the more they talk, the more you realize that their bad breath has taken over the conversation and you can’t think about anything else. It’s hard to keep your head in the game when you’re trying to create some distance between you and their mouth. You wonder if you should say something, but you don’t know this person well enough and don’t want to be hurtful.
The reality is that your friend or colleague with halitosis (a big word for bad breath) is probably well-aware that their breath is less than wonderful. Chances are that they’ve tried a number of remedies to get rid of bad breath, but can’t quite figure out why it still smells. Here’s where Chinese medicine may be able to help.
An important part of the diagnostic process in Chinese medicine is odour. While it may sound gross, your practitioner can actually gain a great deal of information from any unusual smells a patient has. Smells coming from your breath, sweat, skin, or other body parts can help your acupuncturist determine what’s going on with your health at a deeper level.
If you have bad breath, there are a couple of things your practitioner knows right away. First, the smell is usually coming from a combination of heat and stagnation. Simply put, heat is frequently a sign of inflammation or infection, and stagnation means that there is congestion of some kind obstructing the normal movement and function somewhere in your body. What your practitioner also knows is that your bad breath is most likely coming from one of four places: your stomach, sinuses, mouth, or lungs. Here’s a rundown of what may be going on:
- If your bad breath is coming from your stomach, it’s probably in the form of poor digestion. The process of digestion depends on food moving from your stomach and through the rest of your digestive tract. Sometimes however, what you eat gets bogged down in your stomach. Indigestion, heartburn, ulcers, and even bacteria like h. pylori or c. difficile can stagnate in your stomach and cause your breath to smell.
- Your sinuses are a common site of infection, inflammation, and congestion. Whether from a cold, the flu, allergies, chronic sinusitis, or a sinus infection, blocked sinuses can cause bad breath in a couple of ways. First, your obstructed sinuses are a source of odor. Chances are that if you’ve had sinus congestion for more than a couple of weeks, your sinuses are inflamed and possibly infected. Secondly, if your sinuses are congested, you’re likely breathing through your mouth, which can also cause bad breath. If you’re prone to sinus problems, a good strategy is to do some kind of a nasal rinse regularly by using a Neti pot or saline wash; either can help keep your sinuses clear.
- Your mouth can also be a common cause of bad breath, coming from inflamed gums, gum disease, or tooth decay. Brushing, flossing and regular trips to the dentist can help prevent problems and pinpoint obvious causes of bad breath.
- Another surprising source of bad breath is your lungs. A chronic cough, congestion, pneumonia, asthma, and any other lung issues can trigger a combination of heat and stagnation. While a common cold or the flu isn’t likely to cause bad breath, any condition arising from your lungs that becomes chronic has the potential to make your breath smell bad.
Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint exactly where your bad breath is coming from. That’s why it’s important to enlist the help of health professionals if the problem has been going on for more than a couple of weeks. A practitioner of Chinese medicine is an important member of your health care team. They can help determine the cause of your bad breath and work with you to develop a treatment strategy to get it under control.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the founder of BodaHealth in Vancouver, BC. She is also a Registered Herbologist, Registered Acupuncturist and is a Fellow of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine (FABORM), as well as a member of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).