Bad breath, also called halitosis, can be embarrassing and
in some cases may even cause anxiety. It's no wonder
that store shelves are overflowing with gum, mints,
mouthwashes and other products designed to fight bad
breath. But many of these products are only temporary
measures because they don't address the cause of the
Certain foods, health conditions and habits are among the
causes of bad breath. In many cases, you can improve
bad breath with consistent proper dental hygiene. If simple
self-care techniques don't solve the problem, see your
dentist or physician to be sure a more serious condition
isn't causing your bad breath.
Bad breath odors vary, depending on the source or the
underlying cause. Some people worry too much about
their breath even though they have little or no mouth odor,
while others have bad breath and don't know it. Because
it's difficult to assess how your own breath smells, ask a
close friend or relative to confirm your bad-breath
When to see a doctor
If you have bad breath, review your oral hygiene habits.
Try making lifestyle changes, such as brushing your teeth
and tongue after eating, using dental floss, and drinking
plenty of water.
If your bad breath persists after making such changes, see
your dentist. If your dentist suspects a more serious
condition is causing your bad breath, he or she may refer
you to a physician to find the cause of the odor.
Most bad breath starts in your mouth, and there are many
possible causes. They include:
Food. The breakdown of food particles in and around your
teeth can increase bacteria and cause a foul odor. Eating
certain foods, such as onions, garlic and spices, also can
cause bad breath. After you digest these foods, they enter
your bloodstream, are carried to your lungs and affect your
Tobacco products. Smoking causes its own unpleasant
mouth odor. Smokers and oral tobacco users are also
more likely to have gum disease, another source of bad
Poor dental hygiene. If you don't brush and floss daily,
food particles remain in your mouth, causing bad breath. A
colorless, sticky film of bacteria (plaque) forms on your
teeth. If not brushed away, plaque can irritate your gums
and eventually form plaque-filled pockets between your
teeth and gums (periodontitis). Your tongue also can trap
bacteria that produce odors. Dentures that aren't cleaned
regularly or don't fit properly can harbor odor-causing
bacteria and food particles.
Dry mouth. Saliva helps cleanse your mouth, removing
particles that cause bad odors. A condition called dry
mouth or xerostomia (zeer–o-STOE-me-uh) can
contribute to bad breath because production of saliva is
decreased. Dry mouth naturally occurs during sleep,
leading to "morning breath," and it worsens if you sleep
with your mouth open. Chronic dry mouth can be caused
by a problem with your salivary glands and some diseases.
Medications. Some medications can indirectly produce
bad breath by contributing to dry mouth. Others can be
broken down in the body to release chemicals that can be
carried on your breath.
Infections in your mouth. Bad breath can be caused by
surgical wounds after oral surgery, such as tooth removal,
or as a result of tooth decay, gum disease or mouth
Other mouth, nose and throat conditions. Bad breath can
occasionally stem from small stones that form in the
tonsils and are covered with bacteria that produce odor.
Infections or chronic inflammation in the nose, sinuses or
throat, which can contribute to postnasal drip, also can
cause bad breath.
Other causes. Diseases, such as some cancers, and
conditions such as metabolic disorders, can cause a
distinctive breath odor as a result of chemicals they
produce. Chronic reflux of stomach acids
(gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD) can be
associated with bad breath. Bad breath in young children
can be caused by a foreign body, such as a piece of food,
lodged in a nostril.