Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Medically Reviewed by Greg Grillo, D.D.S.

Bad breath, also called halitosis, is a common oral health problem affecting people of all ages. Individuals suffering with bad breath may include those with bad oral hygiene habits, the elderly, disabled, and young children who have difficulty performing oral hygiene tasks. People who use mouth appliances (orthodontics) and have dental braces may also struggle with this problem.

Smokers increase their risk of halitosis and periodontal disease. People with tooth decay, kidney disease, impacted teeth, abscessed teeth, periodontal disease, and dry mouth are also at risk of developing chronic bad breath.

Who else may experience bad breath? Those taking vitamins/supplements, antihistamines and cardiac medications are also prone to bad breath. Individuals with a poor diet may also experience bad breath, and foods such as garlic, onions, cabbage, coffee and diet soda can all contribute to halitosis.

Bad Breath: Where Does it Originate?

Bad breath is triggered when air flows over the bacteria in the mouth, nose, or stomach. Certain nasal conditions also may initiate bad breath. For example, the bacteria associated with sinusitis, post-nasal drip, and allergies can move from the nose to the back of the tongue, where it remains inactive due to improper saliva flow or dental hygiene. These bacteria produce gases usually containing sulfur compounds known for unpleasant odors.

Good Oral Hygiene Habits

Maintaining proper oral hygiene is essential to avoiding bad breath. This includes removing bacterial plaque from the teeth and gums. If the plaque is not removed, it can build up and lead to halitosis, tooth decay,  toothache and gum disease.

Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss between each tooth daily. Furthermore, your dentist may recommend that you brush and floss after eating high-protein meals or other meals that may contribute to foul breath and dehydration.

Using an antiseptic mouthwash in the morning, after eating and before bedtime, also can help reduce the growth of bacteria that causes bad breath. Antiseptic mouthwash products vary based on their ingredients. Some contain zinc chloride, chlorhexidine, chlorine dioxide and oils. However, many mouthwashes contain high levels of alcohol, which often dry the mouth out and allow bacteria to grow.  Consider a rinse that is specially formulated for bad breath, such as Closys.

Tongue scrapers are another useful instrument for managing bad breath and are used to gently scrape the bacterial film from the back of the tongue where they flourish. If you wear dental braces, dentures, or another dental appliance, your dentist will provide you with precise cleaning instructions. These instructions must be followed exactly, especially for removable night appliances, to help prevent bad breath.

A Proper Diet

Your overall diet has a major impact on oral health, and certain foods can ultimately promote saliva flow to reduce your chances of having bad breath. Eating a healthy breakfast initiates saliva flow after a night’s rest when bacteria and odor have a tendency to build up in your mouth. Foods that are high in fiber, such as raw vegetables, can help decrease the risk of halitosis. Beverages that are high in sugar and acid, such as juices and sodas, promote the growth of bacteria that cause halitosis.

Eliminating Bad Breath

Antiseptic mouthwashes, mints, and certain gums offer a temporary solution for bad breath, but they can’t prevent it all together.

Straws force starchy and sticky liquids past the teeth and tongue, preventing them from staying in the mouth to nourish bacteria. They are a particularly useful tool for the elderly, young children, and disabled people who may have difficulty performing dental hygiene tasks.

Over-the-counter and prescription medications can help dry mouth sufferers, and certain toothpastes, toothbrushes, and mouthwashes also are available to help relieve dry mouth.

If you suffer from bad breath and have discolored mucus, colored bumps or blotches on your tongue, it may be a sign of a more severe medical condition. See your dentist as soon as possible for a diagnosis.