One of the more persistent causes of chronic bad breath is post-nasal drip. The thick mucus associated with post-nasal drip provides an ideal medium for the anaerobic bacteria that are responsible for the offensive oral odor known as halitosis. Even people with excellent oral hygiene may suffer acutely from this source of bad breath. Regular brushing and flossing won't eliminate bad breath caused by post-nasal drip.
Post-nasal drip is a catchall term for thick deposits of mucus that pool in the sinuses and throat. This can be caused by the common cold, by a more persistent, chronic sinus infection or by allergies. Ironically, the culprit here is often not too much mucus but too little. Glands lining your nose and throat typically produce between one to two quarts of liquid every day. When the mucous glands of the nose and throat produce less liquid, the resulting secretions become thicker. This mucus becomes a standing reservoir in the back of the throat that we struggle to cough up, often unsuccessfully. This is an ideal condition for the proliferation of the anaerobic bacteria that always live in our throats in small quantities.
The individual symptoms of post-nasal drip are highly variable. They can range from coughing, wheezing and runny nose to difficulty breathing, sore throat and the formation of tonsil stones.
At the very back of the human throat are glands called tonsils, which act as the immune system’s first line of defense against foreign particles that are inhaled or ingested. Mucus can become trapped in tonsil folds, thereby turning tonsils into bacterial breeding grounds. This can lead to the development of a condition known as tonsilloliths, or tonsil stones - hardened particles of bacteria-infested mucus with an extremely pungent, unpleasant smell.
Mucus is a protein, and these bacteria feed on the amino acids cysteine and methionine that are found in proteins. As they feed, anaerobic bacteria produce metabolites that have characteristically noxious smells. One set of smells is related to sulfur compounds. This is the source of that characteristically “rotten egg” smell associated with bad breath secondary to post-nasal drip. Another set of smells is associated with polyamines that produce the classic putrescent odor of decay.
Treating bad breath associated with post nasal drip can be difficult, especially when post-nasal drip is a chronic condition.
Post-nasal drip associated with a transient cold or allergy attack can be effectively treated with a variety of home remedies that focus on loosening, thinning or drying up mucous secretions. This is why when you have a cold, you’re told to drink lots of fluids. Warm fluids like soup and herbal teas use heat to thin and flush out mucus. A humidifier will have the same effect. Some people swear by breathing the steam made by running a hot shower in a closed bathroom, or by breathing Neti pot fumes.
Nasal sprays can also provide some measure of relief. Although a wide variety of commercial nasal sprays containing decongestants is available on the market, doctors argue that the most effective nasal spray is simply a mild saline solution. Decongestants often have a rebound effect, particularly decongestants that contain benzalkonium. Such decongestants may prove effective initially. However, when the symptoms return within a day or two they will be worse than they originally were.
If one of your most unpleasant post-nasal drip symptoms is bad breath, be advised that antihistamines may contribute to bad breath. This is because antihistamines dry out the mouth and dry mouths provide anaerobic bacteria with an ideal environment in which to proliferate.
Finally, people who still have their tonsils need to be aware of just how much tonsils can contribute to chronic halitosis. Because so many people today have had their tonsils removed, tonsil stones are often overlooked or misdiagnosed.
Two of the products in the TheraBreath Tonsil Stone Kits are the Aktiv Oxigen serum and nasal-sinus drops. These fight tonsil stones by oxygenating the throat, tonsil areas and nasal passages, creating an environment where anaerobic bacteria that produce noxious odors can’t survive. The rinse is reconstituted from the kit's serum and plain water. The rinse is flavorless and can be swallowed, which allows it to penetrate more deeply into the throat area than a product that’s only designed for gargling.
If post-nasal drip lasts for ten days or more or is associated with a fever or foul-smelling yellow or green secretions, it is most likely associated with an infection. It's important to see your physician as soon as possible. Your treatment may still include some of the interventions recommended above but you will also most likely require antibiotics.
Post-nasal drip is often associated with persistent bad breath. The phenomenon of post-nasal drip appears to be on the rise. Partly this is due to the increasing concentration of chemicals and pollutants in our environment that our bodies react against. Also, it’s partly caused by the spread of microorganisms between people living in ever-closer contact in large cities and towns.
The best way of treating the bad breath associated with post nasal drip is to treat sources of excess mucous production and to eliminate the proliferation of anaerobic bacteria that thrive in that particular medium.