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Bad breath is an indicator that something’s going on in your mouth. Perhaps it’s as simple as a few slices of pepperoni and onion pizza for lunch. Or maybe your oral care habits have been lacking as of late. Both are easily fixable. But what if your bad breath stems from something more complicated? If your breath smells like ammonia, it may be a sign of a potentially serious problem with your kidneys. Here’s what you need to know about kidney functions and what having ammonia breath indicates.

The Function of the Kidneys

The kidneys are vital to your health. According to the National Kidney Foundation, kidneys remove waste products. They filter the blood and any excess fluids are expelled from the body through the process of urination. They also perform other functions, such as controlling red blood cell production, releasing hormones to regulate blood pressure and helping the body maintain healthy bones by producing vitamin D.

Humans have two kidneys. Both are about the size of a fist and located on either side of the spine just below the rib cage.

Kidney Disease and Oral Health

One of the products removed from the blood supply by kidneys is urea. When the kidneys fail to perform this task, the urea breaks down into ammonia. Hence, the reason people with renal problems often have ammonia breath. Additionally, the body is unable to absorb calcium properly as a result of kidney disease. That can result in a loss of jaw bone and a loosening of teeth that eventually might fall out.

Ammonia Breath Causes and Treatments

Kidney disease isn’t to be taken lightly. Often something else going on with the body, including some other illness, results in kidney disease. The New York Times lists some common causes:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Autoimmune disorders like lupus
  • An injury to one of the kidneys
  • Certain medications

Ammonia breath will only subside once the kidney condition causing it is treated. That won’t happen until you seek the help of a medical professional. Until then, there are different ways to mask bad breath.

  • Carry a toothbrush and toothpaste with you for on-the-go brushing
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water
  • Avoid pungent foods like garlic and onions
  • Clean your tongue
  • Quit smoking if you haven’t already
  • Chew sugar-free gum
  • Keep natural breath fresheners such as parsley or mint leaves handy

Monitoring your overall health can’t be stressed enough. The body could be providing clues that something is seriously wrong. So when you book an annual physical with your primary care physician, be sure to also schedule regular dental checkups. Talk to your dentist about how to develop a good oral care routine that includes brushing at least twice a day. Follow that up with regular flossing to remove food particles from spots a brush might not be able to reach. If you have chronic bad breath, such as ammonia breath, talk to a medical professional.