Bad Breath (Halitosis)

What is Bad Breath?

Chronically bad breath (halitosis) can be caused by a number of factors. One of the most prominent reasons for this condition is poor dental health or poor health habits. However, this is not the only reason why people develop halitosis.

Some people develop this condition because of other health problems or the treatments that come along with them. The condition can become drastically worse because of the type of food eaten and unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Bad breath and the odor associated depends on the cause of the bad breath. Because of the association of our breath with the way people look at us, many people worry too much about it. Since our mouths are one of the ways that people relate to us, it is easy for us to overreact about the smell of our breath.

What are the Symptoms of Bad Breath?

There are a lot of reasons a person may develop bad breath.

Symptoms and causes


As food breaks down, the particles can embed themselves around the teeth and around the gum line. As the food sits, it increases the number of bacteria in the mouth, causing a bad odor. Certain foods, like garlic, onion, and certain spices can increase the potential for developing an odor. There is also a chance that as the food digests and enters your bloodstream, it can be carried into your lungs, and be expelled through your breath.

Using tobacco products

Smoking and using oral tobacco products greatly increases your chances of developing bad breath. This is because using tobacco products increases your chances of developing gum disease.

Poor or inadequate dental hygiene

Failing to brush and floss on a regular basis allows food to stay inside your mouth and between your teeth. Even if you cannot see the food particles inside of your mouth, it can build into a thin, clear, sticky film on your teeth and gums. Eventually, this plaque becomes pockets between your teeth which produce odor and lead to periodontal disease. This odor causing substance can also get trapped between the taste buds on your tongue.

Dry mouth

Saliva being present in your mouth at the right levels ensures that your mouth remains clean. It also helps to remove a large amount of the food particles that become trapped in your mouth. One of the most common dry mouth conditions is xerostomia. This can contribute to the severity of your bad breath symptoms. The condition of dry mouth happens naturally as you are sleeping with your mouth open. However, chronic dry mouth can be more problematic than simply being uncomfortable. Over time, it can lead to the development of numerous diseases.


Certain medications can cause bad breath for the duration of time that you are on them. They can also contribute to you developing dry mouth. They can also release chemicals into the body that are carried through the blood stream, carried into your lungs, and expelled through your breath.

Bad Breath Causes

Bad breath is often caused by poor oral hygiene. Brushing our teeth helps to remove bacteria from our mouths which, if left, can create gas which smells unpleasant. It is particularly common if pieces of food get easily stuck between teeth.

Sometimes, bad breath is caused by gum disease which is also known as gingivitis. It can also occur after having a dry mouth for a prolonged time. A dry mouth causes dead cells to accumulate around the cheeks, tongue and gums, which eventually decompose and create an unpleasant odor.

A dry mouth can be caused by a number of things, such as:

  • Medications
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Breathing through the mouth due to a blocked nose.

In other instances, bad breath can occur after an infection such as sinusitis. Chronic lung infections and abscesses, uncontrolled diabetes, kidney failure and liver failure are all also known to cause bad breath.

How is Bad Breath Treated?

Your dentist or doctor will first need to determine the reason you have developed halitosis. After he determines the cause of your bad breath symptoms, he will be able to determine the right treatment.

Treatment includes

  • Using specific mouth rinses or toothpastes
  • Treatment of dental disease
  • Changing your medications

Bad Breath Prevention

Oral hygiene is vital for keeping bad breath at bay. Not only does it help to prevent the buildup of foul-smelling bacteria and trapped food, but it also helps to prevent gum disease.

Brushing should be done twice each day, with the tongue cleaned at the same time. Daily flossing will also help to remove food which becomes trapped between teeth. Antiseptic mouthwashes can also help to remove any lasting bacteria.

Those who wear dentures are also susceptible to bad breath unless they adopt good hygiene practices. Dentures should be cleaned every day, and soaked overnight in an appropriate cleaner to ensure they don’t accumulate bacteria while not in use.

If dry mouth is the cause of bad breath, try increasing the amount of fluids you drink, and stimulate the flow of saliva by chewing sugar-free gum. Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine.

Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
November 14, 2017