Why does my breath smell bad?

The definition of bad breath, or halitosis, is an unpleasant smell coming from the mouth. Bad breath is usually simple and preventable. Bad breath, can be embarrassing at times and in some cases may even cause anxiety. Products like chewing gum, mints, mouthwashes and other products designed to fight bad breath are only temporary measures because they don’t address the cause of the problem.

Says Dr Prathiba Srinivasan, HOD and clinical Periodontologist—“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”.

How can I know if my breath smells bad?

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 odour. This is referred to as “pseudohalitosis”. While others have bad breath and don’t know it. To assess how your own breath smells, you can ask a close friend or relative to confirm your bad-breath doubts or you can take a simple test-

A simple lick and sniff test will help you tell if you have bad breath. Lick the back of your wrist and let it dry. If this smells, it’s likely that you have bad breath.


What causes bad breath?

Dr Prathiba clarifies——–“Bad breath is caused by various reasons. Although the origin of bad breath is primarily the mouth , several health conditions also can be the causes.

Occasional bad breath is usually caused by strong foods like garlic, onions and coffee.

Persistent bad breath is usually brought on by the breakdown of proteins by bacteria  in the mouth, usually as a result of gum disease or dry mouth.

However, problems with the airways, oesphagus and stomach can also lead to bad breath.

Smoking causes its own type of bad breath as well as leading to higher levels of gum disease and dry mouth.”


Factors that affect the mouth and cause bad breath

  • Gum disease.
  • Food stagnation between the teeth.
  • Untreated decayed tooth or broken tooth due to decay.
  • Bad breath can be caused by impacted teeth or surgical wounds after oral surgery, such as tooth removal or mouth sores.
  •  Food particles not properly cleaned from appliances such as braces can rot or cause bacteria and odour. Loose-fitting dentures may cause sores or infections in the mouth, which can cause bad breath.
  •  Many medications, including antihistamines to treat allergies and diuretics, can cause dry mouth, which can cause bad breath. Other medications that may lead to bad breath may include triamterene (Dyrenium) and paraldehyde.
  • Being pregnant in itself does not cause bad breath, but the nausea and morning sickness common during pregnancy may cause bad breath. In addition, hormonal changes, dehydration, and eating different foods due to cravings may also contribute to bad breath during pregnancy.
  • A dry mouth, which can be common as we get older.
  • Bad breath in young children can be caused by mouth breathing or a foreign body, such as a piece of food, lodged in a nostril.
  • Excessive bacterial activity on the tongue, possibly due to postnasal drip (catarrh coming down the back of the throat from the sinuses and nasal passages).
  • Throat or tonsil infection.
  • Catarrh.

Factors that affect the airways and cause bad breath

  • Sinusitis.
  • Polyps.
  • Dryness.
  • Foreign body.
  • Hindered air or mucus flow.
  • Bronchitis.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Bronchiectasis (dilation of the bronchi of the lungs, usually from previous infection).

Factors that affect the oesphagus and stomach and cause bad breath

  • Gastritis and food reflux.
  • Food stagnation.

In rare cases, bad breath can be a sign of a significant general health problem, so it should not be ignored.

However, the usual cause is from gum disease, which can often be treated to resolve the problem.

How can I prevent bad breath?

Dr Prathiba says…..”Some types of bad breath, such as “morning mouth,” are considered to be fairly normal, and they usually are not health concerns. The “morning mouth” type of bad breath occurs because the saliva that regularly washes away decaying food and odours during the daytime diminishes at night while you sleep. Your mouth becomes dry, and dead cells adhere to your tongue and to the inside of your cheeks. Bacteria use these cells for food and expel compounds that have a foul odour.

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.

As bad breath is almost always caused by a problem in the mouth, it is helpful to visit a dentist or hygienist. Do not try to mask the odour before the visit – it needs to be as typical as possible.

Most bad breath is as a result of gum disease and treatment of the gum disease by scaling and polishing the teeth and teaching a good home oral care routine will help reduce the bad breath.

If no oral cause can be identified by your dentist they may suggest that you a attend a clinic that specialises in breath odours, or that you visit your doctor.

Treatment of bad breath depends on the cause.”

What measures can I take to prevent bad breath?

The following measures can be taken to improve the condition

  • Maintain a high level of dental and mouth hygiene. In addition to brushing twice a day for two minutes at a time with a fluoride toothpaste containing an antibacterial, it is important to clean between the teeth using interdental brushes or dental floss, as recommended by your dentist, hygienist or pharmacist.
  • Use a tongue cleaner and clean right to the back of the tongue.
  • Use a mouthwash containing an antibacterial ingredient as recommended by your dentist, hygienist or pharmacist after brushing. It is important not to use a mouthwash just to mask bad breath.
  • Use a tongue cleaner and clean right to the back of the tongue. Drink plenty of fluids, avoiding too much coffee.
  • Chew sugar-free gum after meals and especially if your mouth feels dry.
  • Eat a healthy diet with at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day.
  • Keep the mouth moist by drinking water.
  • Quit smoking or using chewing tobacco.
  • Visit your dentist or hygienist regularly as often as they recommend and have your teeth professionally cleaned as needed.

If bad breath is due to a health problem such as a sinus infection, diabetes, acid reflux etc, then the underlying medical issue needs to be treated. If bad breath is a side effect of taking medication, discuss with a health care professional about the other options for medication that can be taken. Never stop taking a medication without first consulting your health care professional. For patients who suffer from dry mouth (xerostomia), artificial saliva may be prescribed by a dentist.



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