Fresh Breath Day falls on 6 August. Some countries have denoted this day as a call to brush up on one’s knowledge of oral health and learn how to avoid bad breath and improve oral hygiene.
For NUS Dentistry Assistant Professor Jacinta Lu, bad breath is part of the landscape of her job. “Every dentist is accustomed to bad breath. Sometimes when I sit in the MRT and a person just yawns, I think to myself 'there is probably decay’ or ‘this is due to gum disease',” she shared with a laugh.
The accumulation of bacteria in the mouth due to lack of proper oral care can cause issues such as decay or gum disease which are two of the main causes of oral malodour, or bad breath. When the bacteria breaks down the proteins in food, saliva and blood, production of volatile sulphur compounds occurs, Asst Prof Lu explained. These sulphur-containing by-products result in the distinctive odours commonly associated with bad breath.
While many people use mouthwash and mints as a way to cover up the problem, this is often only addressing a symptom and sugar-coating the issue, Asst Prof Lu said. The root cause needs to be addressed by changing the way oral hygiene is done.
“If the dirt has accumulated to a certain level of thickness, gargling mouthwash doesn't really sweep it away. Imagine you have a very oily plate, if you just tip it into a basin of soap and pull it out, it's still oily. No matter what, you still have to give it a scrub. Ultimately you cannot do without brushing and interdental cleaning,” she elaborated.
Some tips she suggested for better oral hygiene are to use a toothbrush with soft and uniform bristles, start off by brushing along the gums in small circular jiggling motions and to do interdental cleaning — cleaning between the teeth. For patients with bad breath, they could also clean their tongue either with toothbrushes or tongue scrapers to reduce the bacterial coating on the tongue.
In Asst Prof Lu’s opinion, the most effective way of ensuring good oral health is a two-pronged approach —personal good oral hygiene practiced with regular visits to the dentist, preferably every six months.
"Even if a patient practises a ‘textbook style’ method of brushing diligently, what they are targeting is still limited to sections above the gums. Professional help or intervention is still required to attend to the regions beneath the gums. Hence, patients still need to visit their dentists regularly for ‘spring cleaning’," she added.
As a clinical supervisor in the University, part of her job requires Asst Prof Lu to oversee undergraduate clinics where NUS Dentistry students provide gum treatment and provide customised oral hygiene instructions to patients. They also conduct chairside demonstrations and give detailed guidance to patients on the right way to clean their teeth.
This is one area she hopes that dental students bring with them after graduation.
“It is important that dentists spend time on providing chairside oral hygiene instructions to their patients. It goes a long way to increase awareness for the public and also in terms of disease education and prevention. I always believe prevention is better than cure,” she said.