There are myriad things, both physically and emotionally, that change as we age. Whether it’s our height (how much do we shrink?), to our vision or hearing, to our ability to handle alcohol, or perhaps most importantly for many, how our brains continue — or don’t — to function over time.
But does your breath inevitably get worse as you age?
Thankfully, no — but there are physical forces at work that require extra vigilance against stinky breath.
Whatever the cause, bad breath (known as “halitosis” in medical offices) can be embarrassing and worrisome.
But never fear: Halitosis might be stubborn, but here are some concrete steps you can take to treat it:
1. Put effort into your oral hygiene
Let’s start with the obvious. You’ve heard it for years, but seriously: Take a few minutes each day to clean your teeth and gums completely.
Regular flossing, for example, is key to removing the particles of food and bacteria that get trapped between teeth and cause odor, and investing in a strong mouthwash also helps keep nasty bacteria at bay.
2. Check the fit of your dentures
Halitosis often strikes older people when they don’t properly clean dentures.
When people age, they naturally produce less saliva. Spit is chock-full of digestive enzymes that help break down food. The fewer the enzymes, the longer food particles linger in the mouth (in and under dentures, specifically), and the stinkier breath becomes.
And make sure your dentures are a perfect fit. The bones in your mouth tend to recede with age: If your dentures become too loose, the gaps between them and your gums are a perfect home for smelly bacteria.
3. Make sure you visit your dentist
Visiting a dentist twice a year is key to spotting decay before it gets too bad. Often, oral issues can be caught and treated immediately, but if left ignored by a professional they can become much more dangerous (or, at the very least, smelly).
Your teeth have been taking a pounding for decades by now. Even with the best treatment, teeth become brittle with age, and the outer enamel becomes thinner. Hairline cracks in your teeth let in bacteria — stinking up your mouth (and potentially killing the tooth).
And don’t be shy about asking questions. Be sure to quiz your dental professional on issues like darkened teeth and root decay that especially affect seniors.
4. Loved ones with dementia need help caring for their teeth
If you’re caring for someone with dementia, make sure you and any home aides are tending to their teeth.
People suffering dementia are frequently dehydrated, and they often have trouble manipulating a toothbrush. (Dehydration is a dangerous condition, one of many that could cause bad breath in the person you’re caring for. Report any changes to their doctor.)
5. If your bad breath persists, be sure your doctor knows
Don’t be shy about talking to your physician about your own stinky mouth; It could be your body’s way of warning you that something more serious is going on.
Halitosis may signal much larger health issues like diabetes and liver failure. Both for your bad breath and your overall health, if you start to notice persistent halitosis, it’s worth going to a doctor and having an overall wellness check.
Liver or kidney failure, for example, tends to make the breath smell like ammonia, and diabetes often leaves breath smelling unnaturally fruity.
A few over-the-counter medications can help keep your mouth moist. Look into products like Biotene and ACT Dry Mouth products if you start to feel your mouth becoming dryer than usual, or if you’re just stumped as to what might be causing your offensive mouth odor.
Halitosis is never fun, but the good news is it’s treatable. The better your oral hygiene and the quicker you catch it, the easier it will be to treat.