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Does Stress Cause Bad Breath?

Of all the idiotic, trivial things that can ruin a person’s life, bad breath has to rank high on anyone’s list of the humiliating tricks fate can play on us. A magazine in Japan sounds the alarm: our collective breath, already bad, is getting worse. Blame stress. High standards and feverish competition make Japan a stressful place at the best of times, which these recessionary times are not. Assuming the diagnosis of recession halitosis holds, our breath should sweeten as the economy recovers if the economy recovers.

The article opens with a personal anecdote concerning a certain Mr. A, a 31-year-old advertising company employee who, always careful about brushing and flossing, was all the more chagrined to note unmistakable signs of repugnance on the face of a female colleague he was chatting up. How strange. Why should his breath be foul? His health was good, his stomach apparently fine. True, he was in a state of some anxiety over his precarious finances. Also, lately his mouth often felt strangely dry. Could that be significant?

It is indeed, says Ichiro Saito, a dentistry professor at Tsurumi University and author of a book on “dry mouth” syndrome. The number of patients he’s seeing who suffer from it has increased dramatically over the past five years. Based on his own practice and other research, he estimates 30 million Japanese may be afflicted with it.
The usual causes, stress aside, are aging and medicinal side effects. But Saito was noticing a sharp rise in the number of young sufferers, many of them under stress, though not necessarily economy-related. One of his patients, a company man in his 30s, was being persistently harassed by an older subordinate resentful of his relatively lowly status. Another patient, a “desk worker” in his 20s, found his mouth drying as a romantic relationship turned sour.

Why should stress cause bad breath? As a rule, Saito describes in the article, a person secretes 1.5 liters of saliva a day. Salivation is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Have a relaxing massage and notice the flow increase. Quarrel with your boss and your mouth dries. If you think of saliva as a kind of natural mouthwash, the rest of the explanation is easily inferred dry equals unclean.

There are those who would say that if bad breath is your biggest worry, your life is on a pretty even keel. But it’s not necessarily so. Surveys consistently show that women are acutely sensitive to a man’s mouth odors. One 20-year-old woman the magazine speaks to sums it up clearly and bluntly: I don’t care how good-looking a guy is, if his mouth smells like poison gas, I won’t kiss him!?

So chew gum, men, and carry a water bottle with you for emergency sips (not gulps) when you get that dry-mouth feeling. And chew your food thoroughly. That’s something we’re apt to neglect in hurried, stressful times. In doing so, we don’t make our stress any easier to bear.