Bad Breath: How It’s Caused & What You Can Do About It

 In Patient Education

Having bad breath is embarrassing and can even cause anxiety. But halitosis affects 25% of people, whether it is lingering morning breath or chronic halitosis. It is no surprise that millions are spent annually on products to freshen our breath and keep our mouths clean.

Oral hygiene is the leading cause of bad breath, but there are a number or causes for why you have offensive breath. But the real culprit is a bacterium that lives in your mouth. There are simple, at-home remedies. In some cases, your dentist may recommend using different toothpaste, toothbrushes, or having more frequent visits in their office.

Causes and Solutions for Bad Breath


It’s a no brainer: what you eat affects your breath. Diets that are low in carbohydrates (ketone diets, specifically) cause bad breath because of the way your body burns fat as its main energy source. The end product is ketones, which causes an acetone-like odor on your breath.

Foods with strong odor have negative effects on breath. Vegetables that are Alliums – like garlic and onions – commonly contribute to smelly breath because they contain high concentrations of sulfur compounds. Other foods such as strong spices (like curry), aged cheeses, fish, and acidic beverages (like coffee) contribute to foul breath. This is because after these foods are digested, they filter into the bloodstream and into the lungs, where your breath is affected.

Solution: Immediately after eating, brush and floss to get rid of any food particles that may be stuck to your teeth. Garlicky breath can stick around for up to 2 days, so don’t be surprised if you still smell garlic on your breath. Mouthwash and sugar-free gum can help freshen your breath and aid in rinsing away any residual food particles.

Dry Mouth

Saliva washes away bacteria in your mouth, deterring foul breath. But if you suffer from dry mouth (xerostomia) you may experience bad breath as a result. Dry mouth is caused by a problem with salivary glands, which can be affected by certain medications and diseases. Medications used for blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, diuretics, and many other conditions can cause the salivary glands to malfunction. This causes them to not produce enough saliva to keep you mouth wet.

Solution: Sipping on water throughout the day can work well to prevent dry mouth. Chewing sugar-free gum and sucking on sugar-free candy or lozenges between meals may also make a difference, because they stimulate your salivary glands. If you have chronic dry mouth, your dentist may recommend a saliva substitute.

Medical Conditions

Conditions and medical disorders can cause halitosis, mostly due to the medication patients take. Medications contribute to dry mouth, while others breakdown chemicals that produce a foul odor that is carried on your breath. Some conditions cause your body to react differently to medications, types of food (in the case of reflux and lactose intolerance), or internal processes, such as liver disease.

Some conditions that can cause bad breath are:

  • Periodontal infections – Gum disease & tooth decay are a common cause, since the infection is in your mouth.
  • Tonsillitis – Tonsillitis is caused by viruses or bacteria on your tonsils, which can become inflamed and infected, causing foul odor.
  • Respiratory infection – bacterial infections in the lung affect the air in your lungs that you exhale.
  • Diabetes – Diabetes can cause your blood to have high levels of ketones – acetone being one chemical – and can cause your breath to smell like nail polish remover.
  • Reflux – Reflux is the acidic regurgitation of stomach contents and causes heartburn and a sour or bitter taste in the mouth.
  • Liver or Kidney disease – When your liver does not process chemical substances in your body properly, the odors do not get filtered properly and cause bad breath.
  • Lactose intolerance – Lactose intolerance is the body’s inability to digest the sugars in milk. The undigested sugar microbes put off a sulfurous pungent odor that causes a foul smell on your breath.

Solution: If you have chronic bad breath and typical remedies like constant brushing, flossing, and products to freshen your breath do not work, it’s important to see your dentist to identify any underlying health concerns.

Tobacco Products

Smoking along causes foul mouth odor. Smokers and oral tobacco users are more likely to experience gum diseases and are at an increased risk for tooth decay. Gum disease and tooth decay are both common factors in cases of halitosis.

Poor Dental Hygiene

It is no surprise that poor dental hygiene causes halitosis. When plaque builds up on your teeth, it irritates the gums and causes inflammation between the teeth and gums. Your tongue is a breeding ground for bacteria. The back of the tongue has many grooves and crevices that trap bacteria and food particles. It’s hard to clean the back of the tongue without triggering your gag reflex, even with a tongue scraper. This bacteria can build up and causes a particularly foul odor on your breath.

Solution: Seeing your dentist regularly is important to having a clean mouth. But a professional cleaning only keeps plaque away for a short period of time. A good at-home oral routine is essential for maintaining clean teeth. Toothpaste has antibacterial properties, but the key is using proper brushing technique to remove the bacteria and food residue from your teeth. After brushing, flossing helps remove any leftover particles that get stuck between your teeth. Using an antiseptic mouth rinse also helps reduce bacteria on the tongue and teeth.

If you experience embarrassing bad breath and at-home remedies are not being effective, contact your dentist today to schedule an appointment.

If you would like to learn more, please do not hesitate to give us a call or contact us to book an appointment.

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