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Helen Carter

Optometrists get up close and personal to their patients every day so having fresh breath, or at least avoiding bad breath, is important for practice building.

Apart from basic oral hygiene such as brushing and flossing, measures such as continually sipping water throughout the day and cleaning the tongue are major ways to reduce the chance of having bad breath.

Chairman of the Oral Health Committee of the Australian Dental Association and a practising dentist in Adelaide, Dr Peter Alldritt, said it was really important—and probably more important for health practitioners who work in close proximity to patients—to avoid halitosis.

‘Bad breath cannot be a practice builder. Patients are unlikely to be happy to visit an optometrist with bad breath and certainly won’t recommend that optometrist to their friends,’ he said. ‘As health-care practitioners, shouldn’t we be setting a good example on health in general including good oral health?’

Dr Alldritt said everyone suffered bad breath at some point because of what we eat and drink.

‘If consulting, try to avoid onion, garlic and alcohol at dinner the night before because these will linger on the breath tomorrow,’ he said. ‘Onion, garlic, curries and very spicy foods can leave residual odour on the breath and skin as the odour can be emitted through the pores.

‘Alcohol and coffee also leave you with bad breath and dehydrate your mouth. I am not saying don’t drink coffee at work as people need a stimulant, but notice that it does dry the mouth and always drink water after coffee.

‘Sugar-free gum between consultations helps neutralise odour and acidity, stimulates saliva and produces more moisture in the mouth, reducing dryness, and sugar-free mints also give the breath a fresh boost,’ he advised.

Dr Alldritt said smokers had chronic bad breath.

‘If you are a health-care practitioner who smokes, the first thing you should do is quit smoking as you should be setting a good example. Also, some eye diseases are linked to smoking,’ he said.

‘Dry mouth can lead to bad breath so continually sipping water throughout the day is one of the best things to prevent bad breath as this increases moisture levels in the mouth.

‘Optometrists and other health practitioners often talk to patients all day and this also dries the mouth, as does working in air-conditioning.’

Dr Alldritt said people should brush their teeth twice daily, floss daily and clean their tongue daily with the dimpled rubber part on the back of toothbrushes or a regular toothbrush, or wipe a tongue scraper across the tongue from back to front.

‘The tongue harbours bacteria and food particles and is one of the leading causes of bad breath. Cleaning wipes off the white plaque on your tongue,’ he said. ‘Don’t use a mouth rinse to cover up the problem because there might be an underlying problem needing fixing such as gum disease, a cavity or infected tooth.’

Bacterial infections that cause gum disease, gingivitis or periodontitis can cause bad breath. Other risk factors such as stress and diabetes can worsen these infections.

Dr Alldritt said dental checks should occur at least annually to ensure decay, infections and gum disease were detected and treated, and to scrape off plaque and tartar calcification.

Bad breath can also come from the nose if there is a chronic sinus problem, sinusitis or a cold.

‘If you have a cold and have to keep working, wearing a mask is a good idea as you will be close to patients and breathing on them. You can just say you have a cold and don’t want to give it to them and I think patients would be impressed by that,’ he said.

‘Patients are used to seeing health-care practitioners wear masks these days.’

Other rarer and more sinister causes of bad breath include oesophageal, stomach, mouth and throat cancer so if halitosis is not responding to oral hygiene measures and dental visits, Dr Alldritt advises seeing a GP or ear, nose and throat surgeon for further investigation.

For further information on oral health visit www.ada.org.au and ask your dentist.

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