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Bad Taste / Breath Question

Do you know what the cause of the bad breath taste may be?

“Over the last week I have noticed I have been getting a really bad taste in my mouth and I do not know what the cause of it is. I brush my teeth twice a day.”

– Question from Mark, Strathpine, Brisbane

Dr David Kerr replies:

There are a couple of different reasons why you might get a bad taste your mouth.

1. Infection can cause a bad taste or breath

The most common one is from an infection. Whether it is pus draining into your mouth, or there is an infection in the gum or jawbone, you will also get a bad taste from that.

The problem with these is that quite often there is no pain associated with the early stages, so you can have this infection for quite a while, weeks or even months, before you start to get any pain from it.

The down side of this is, all that time that the infection is festering away the bacteria is going into your bloodstream and can cause damage to other organs: your heart in particular or your pancreas. This means you are at a much higher risk of heart disease, stroke or diabetes.

The bad tastes that you might experience can really vary, so it is hard to pin it down whether it is a ‘bitter’ or ‘sour’ taste – it is most easily described as a very unpleasant taste.

“Bad breath is usually picked up first by other people before the person who has bad breath.”

Investigate potential infection as soon as you can

If you have any kind of bad taste you should get it investigated as soon as possible because it can blow up very quickly. Thousands of people do end up in hospital in Brisbane every year having major surgery from dental infections causes.

2. Deteriorating fillings can cause a bad taste or breath

The second thing it could be is if your dental fillings are deteriorating it can give a metallic taste. Over time everything breaks down so the old silver mercury fillings can corrode or break down where they seal against the tooth and this will let in bacteria into the tooth so that decay can produce a bad taste too.

Deteriorating fillings can cause bad breath

I have been asked about the effects of ingesting or swallowing the filling materials, in particular the old mercury fillings. The actual amount of filling you could digest and is contained in your body is quite small. Current research suggests that most of what you ingest is passed through the body and not retained, so no measurable health risk could come from that.

The main risk of deteriorating fillings

The main risk with deteriorating fillings is the damage to the tissues, further decay to the tooth and that you are potentially heading down the path to an abscess.

If caught early then the filling can simply be replaced, however if left longer more work will need to be done to save the tooth.

Like everything, the earlier and smaller the problem is caught the better – which is also reflected in time and cost at the dentist.

3. Other potential reasons for a bad taste or breath

There are a couple of other reasons, including:

  • Gases coming up from your stomach: sometimes acid can come up as well and cause damage to the esophagus.
  • Bacteria in the mouth that can cause a ‘rotten egg’ gas: this is not so much bad taste but more bad breath. This bacteria usually lives on the side of the tongue and usually don’t cause any damage to the teeth. These can usually be dealt with by a particular kind of mouthwash.
  • The supermarket variety mouthwashes usually won’t be able to neutralise this kind of bacteria.
  • Food caught in between the teeth: this can smell or taste bad and will eventually lead to decay and potential infection.

There are complex machines that can measure the strength of ‘rotten egg’ sulphur gases, but the best machine to test with is the nose!

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