Do you have less than minty-fresh breath? Bad breath (or halitosis) can be a sign of health problems such as gum disease or dry mouth – two conditions that affect people with arthritis. The dry mouth could be caused by having Sjogren’s syndrome or from taking common over-the-counter medicines for arthritis pain, such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen.
“Halitosis is very common – and fortunately, very curable,” says Connie White, DDS, general dentist and spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry.
Use these smart solutions to keep bad breath at bay:
See your doctor. Tell your doctor about your breath. If you haven’t been diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, your dry mouth and halitosis could be a sign that you should be tested. Bad breath also can be the result of respiratory problems, gastroesophageal reflux disease, kidney failure or liver failure, says Jacqueline L. Wolf, MD, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Some arthritis medications can cause stomach, liver, kidney and breathing problems.
Check all your meds. In addition to pain medicines, other drugs you may use – such as blood pressure medicines, antidepressants, sedatives, and even cold and allergy medicines – can contribute to dry mouth and bad breath. “Tell your doctor. He may adjust your dosage or suggest a replacement, especially if your dry mouth is severe,” says White. Drink lots of water, and consider chewing sugar-free gum that contains xylitol, which fights decay.
Read your mouthwash’s fine print. Preventing gum disease is important for people with arthritis, and mouthwash is an important part of dental hygiene. “But many mouthwashes have an extremely high alcohol content – up to 21 percent,” says White. “Alcohol is a drying agent, so although you get temporary fresh breath, you’re actually creating a bacteria breeding ground.” If you like to rinse, choose fluoride rinses labeled “low alcohol” or “alcohol-free.”
Bypass garlic and onions. Although these staples of the allium family have anti-inflammatory properties, they produce a number of sulfur-containing gases that can be excreted for more than four hours,” says Dr. Wolf. One of the compounds – allyl methyl sulphide (AMS) – cannot be broken down during digestion, causing it to be released from the body in the breath and sweat.
Don’t let meals linger in your mouth. The single biggest bad-breath culprit is food stuck between the teeth and gums, says White. “It feeds mouth bacteria that produce sulfur – that’s the compound that creates a rotten-egg smell,” explains Dr. Wolf. Floss at least once a day and brush your teeth and tongue after each meal, she says. Inconvenient to brush at the office or restaurant? Rinse your mouth with water, advises White.