What You Need To Know About Bad Breath: Causes, Signs, & Prevention

Have you noticed people stepping away or looking away when you start to talk? The joy of snuggling with your loved one or the laughter from a shared joke can quickly turn into discomfort when you’re plagued by bad breath. Breath odour affects everyone at some point. 

The presence of bad breath can be embarrassing, and in certain situations, it can even be stressful. It is estimated that nearly 1 in 4 people have bad breath regularly. As a result, it’s no surprise that store shelves are stacked high with gum, mint, mouthwash, and other products designed to prevent bad breath. However, because they do not treat the root source of the problem, many of these products are temporary band-aid solutions.

Bad breath can be caused by various factors, including certain foods, health issues, and behaviours. In many cases, maintaining consistent oral hygiene can help to relieve bad breath problems. If basic self-care procedures do not solve the situation, consult your dentist or physician to ensure that a more severe condition is not the reason for your bad breath.

Here, we will discuss everything you need to know about bad breath. Never miss the ride and read along with the interesting dental information on this site!

What is Bad Breath?

what is bad breath

Bad breath, medically referred to as “halitosis”, can be caused by poor dental hygiene habits and may indicate the presence of various health concerns. Additionally, bad breath can be worsened by consuming foods and other unhealthy lifestyle habits.

In most situations, an unpleasant and persistent odour defines bad breath in exhaled breath. There are numerous causes of foul breath, including poor dental care, poor eating habits, and dehydration.

The tongue, too, is a breeding ground for bacteria, and if it is not brushed daily, halitosis can develop. In some circumstances, halitosis may indicate an underlying infection or disease if it remains even after brushing.

The majority of people who suffer from chronic halitosis are unaware of their illness. However, licking and smelling the forearm will often suggest poor breath.

Furthermore, vegans experience fewer halitosis symptoms than meat-eaters. If the mouth is not adequately cleaned, the remaining meat particles decay and produce a terrible smell.

Common Causes of Bad Breath

There are several possible reasons for bad breath. While many causes of foul breath are harmless, they can sometimes indicate something more serious. The following factors can bring on halitosis:

  • Food:
    Food particles breaking down in and around your teeth might result in an increase in bacteria and a foul odour. Consumption of specific foods, such as onions, garlic, and spices, can also contribute to foul breath. Following digestion, these meals enter the bloodstream, are delivered to the lungs, and have an effect on your breath.

  • Tobacco products:
    Smoking produces an unpleasant mouth odour on its own. Moreover, smokers and oral tobacco users are more likely to develop gum disease, which contributes to foul breath.

  • Poor dental hygiene:
    Without regular brushing and flossing, food particles pile up in your mouth, resulting in bad breath. A whitish, sticky coating of germs called plaque forms on your teeth. If plaque is not removed from the teeth, it can irritate the gums and eventually build plaque-filled pockets between the teeth and gums (periodontitis). Similarly, your tongue can trap germs that produce odours. Dentures that are not cleaned regularly or do not fit properly might retain bacteria and food particles that cause odour.

  • Crash diets: 
    Fasting and low-carbohydrate diets might result in halitosis. This is because fats are broken down, and ketones are produced. The fragrance of these ketones has a strong aroma.

  • Dry mouth:
    Saliva assists in cleansing the mouth by eliminating particles that contribute to unpleasant odours. Dry mouth, or xerostomia, can lead to poor breath by reducing saliva production. Bad breath occurs naturally during sleep, resulting in “morning breath.” It is adversely affected if you sleep with your mouth open. A dry mouth that continues for a long time might be caused by a problem with your salivary glands or certain disorders.

  • Medications:
    Some medications can indirectly cause 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: 
    After oral surgery, surgical wounds can cause bad breath, such as tooth extraction, tooth decay, gum disease, or mouth sores.

  • Another mouth, nose, and throat condition:
    Often, bad breath is caused by small stones that grow in the tonsils and become covered with bacteria that produce an odour. Infections or persistent inflammation of the nose, sinuses, or throat, which can produce post-nasal drip, can also result in poor breath.

  • Other causes:
    Certain diseases, such as some cancers and conditions, like metabolic disorders, can release chemicals that cause a characteristic breath odour. Chronic acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD) can result in poor breath. In young children, bad breath can be caused by a foreign body stuck in a nostril, such as a piece of food.

Signs and Symptoms of Bad Breath

signs and symptoms of bad breath

Breath smells can differ according to the underlying cause of the problem. It is best to have someone close check your mouth odour, as assessing it alone can be difficult.

If no one is around to help, one way to check the smell is to lick your wrist, allow it to dry, and then smell it. A foul smell coming from this area of the wrist may indicate that you suffer from halitosis.

Even if they have little or no mouth odour, some people are worried about their breath. This condition is called “halitophobia” and results in compulsive mouth-cleaning activity. The signs and symptoms of halitosis can include:

  • A white coating on the tongue, especially near the back
  • A thirsty or parched mouth
  • Plaque buildup around the teeth
  • Post-nasal drip, also known as mucous
  • Disgusting morning breath and a burning tongue
  • Constant coughing and excessive salivation
  • Consistently sour, bitter, and metallic taste

Halitosis can have a significant impact on a person. Other people may distance themselves or turn their heads due to bad breath, leading to a loss of self-esteem and confidence.

When to Visit the Dentist for Bad Breath

If you struggle with bad breath, have a look at your oral hygiene habits. Consider changing your lifestyle habits, such as brushing your teeth and tongue after meals, flossing your teeth, and drinking plenty of water. If your foul breath persists after making these changes, schedule an appointment right away with your dentist.

Regular dental check-ups enable your dentist to monitor locations where plaque has become trapped between your teeth. Your dentist will be able to clean all of the hard-to-reach places. Furthermore, they will be able to demonstrate the proper way to clean your teeth and gums, as well as any places you may be missing, such as your tongue.

During your routine check-ups, your dentist will be able to detect and correct the problem. The sooner problems are identified, the more effective the treatment. 

How to Treat Bad Breath

The causes of the bad breath will determine the treatment. Good dental hygiene is the most effective way to reduce halitosis. This prevents cavities and minimizes the likelihood of gum disease. If your bad breath is thought to result from a medical condition, your dentist will most likely recommend that you see your primary care provider.

For causes related to oral health, your dentist will work with you to help you better control that condition. Dental measures may include:

  • Mouth rinses and toothpaste:
    If your bad breath is caused by a bacterial buildup (plaque) on your teeth, your dentist may recommend a mouth rinse that eliminates the bacteria. Your dentist may also prescribe an antimicrobial toothpaste to destroy the bacteria that cause plaque accumulation.

  • Treatment of dental disease:
    You may be referred to a gum specialist if you have gum disease (periodontist). Gum disease can cause your gums to move away from your teeth, leaving deep pockets that breed odour-causing bacteria. These bacteria are sometimes only removed by skilled cleaning. Your dentist may also advise you to replace damaged dental restorations, which are breeding grounds for bacteria.

It is also suggested that you visit the dentist twice a year for a check-up and cleaning. A dentist examines the mouth for cavities, decay, gum disease, and other oral health concerns during dental exams. Speak to the dentist as soon as possible to identify the cause of your halitosis and find the most effective treatment. 

Habits that Help Prevent Bad Breath

Bad breath can be humiliating, but it is a common issue that can be prevented. Follow these habits to fight bad breath and keep your mouth healthy:

  1. Brush your teeth at least twice a day:
    Brush your teeth for two to three minutes twice a day to remove plaque and food particles. It is essential to know when to brush your teeth at breakfast and before bed. Brushing with baking soda can help to lower acidity and the bacteria that produce bad breath.

  2. Floss daily:
    Flossing removes food particles between teeth that a toothbrush cannot reach. Bacteria will feed on the food debris if not eliminated, resulting in bad breath.

  3. Clean your tongue with a toothbrush or a scraper:
    Bacteria can accumulate on the rough surface of your tongue and contribute to halitosis, so keep it clean. To remove any accumulation between the taste buds and folds in the tongue, clean the entire surface, not just the tip. A cheap plastic tongue scraper, which can be found at drugstores, is an excellent instrument for this. You can also brush your tongue with your toothbrush.

  4. Use a mouthwash:
    A mouth rinse will cover the odour if your chronic bad breath is caused by dental disease. In rare circumstances, this may worsen the disease by irritating the oral tissue. Instead, try a quick rinse with a water mix and a few drops of peppermint oil. Or rinse your mouth with black or green tea. Two research studies by Pace University and the University of Illinois at Chicago showed that rinsing with tea can suppress the growth of bacteria that cause bad breath.

  5. Consult your dentist:
    If you are uncertain whether you have persistent bad breath, you can consult with your dentist, who will determine whether you have a problem and how severe it is. If you have an oral health concern, your dentist can evaluate it and send you to your family doctor or a specialist if an internal infection causes it.

  6. Quit smoking and avoid tobacco products:
    If you need another excuse to give up, here’s a simple one: Cigarette smoking adds to foul breath. Tobacco has a drying effect on the mouth and can leave an unpleasant odour that stays long after brushing your teeth.

  7. Whet your appetite:
    A dry mouth adds to poor breath, so drink plenty of water (six to eight 8-ounce glasses) every day. Drinking water helps keep odours under control because it washes away food particles and bacteria, the leading causes of foul breath. If you have a chronic dry mouth or take medications that induce dry mouth, ask your dentist about an over-the-counter saliva substitute.

  8. Chew sugar-free gum or eat sugar-free candy:
    To stimulate saliva flow, suck on a piece of sugarless candy or chew sugarless gum. Your saliva will aid in the removal of food particles and bacteria that cause bad breath.

  9. Consume crunchy fruits and vegetables:
    Snack on carrots, celery sticks, and apples between meals to stimulate saliva flow and wash away bacteria. These snacks can also aid in the relief of foul breath induced by hunger or fasting. An empty stomach caused by skipping meals can result in foul breath due to acid buildup in your stomach.

Food that Causes Bad Breath

food that causes bad breath

Bad breath does not have to be a problem. Some medical conditions might result in bad breath, so it is not necessarily tied to diet or cleanliness, although it is often advisable to be mindful of the foods you eat that may affect your breath. The following foods may contribute to bad breath:

  • Garlic:
    While it is not surprising that garlic made a list, what may surprise you is how garlic’s sulfuric flavour can linger on more than just your tongue. Garlic is also absorbed into the bloodstream, allowing a secondary wave of odour to enter the lungs and leave freely through the mouth. Garlic, once absorbed, emits a bitter odour through your pores.

  • Onions:
    As is the case with garlic, the odour of onions remains long after you have eaten them. This is because they both include sulfuric chemicals, which are absorbed into the bloodstream and return when you least expect them.

  • Dairy:
    While milk is beneficial to the body, it can contaminate the tongue. This is because naturally occurring bacteria on your tongue feed on the amino acids in milk and cheese, resulting in a nasty, unpleasant odour.

  • Canned Tuna:
    Nobody will ever confuse the aroma of fish. However, something about canned tuna elevates the odour to a new level. Seafood oxidizes naturally, a process that is accelerated by the procedure of storing it in a dark, metallic can.

  • Horseradish:
    When the flavour of a plant is also its natural defence against hungry animals, you can be sure that the byproduct will stay after the plant has been eaten. Horseradish is an example of this. Isothiocyanate, a chemical component found in this common root vegetable, imparts a distinct flavour and aroma to cocktail sauces, salad dressings, and breath. 

  • Pasta Sauce:
    As with citrus fruits, tomatoes’ acidity can build acids in the mouth and increase bacterial development.

  • Peanut Butter:
    Although peanut butter is an excellent source of protein, its paste-like consistency makes it difficult for saliva to break down the proteins once they enter the mouth. And because peanut butter is so sticky, it can remain in your mouth for hours between brushings. Bacteria thrive on protein, so peanut butter is a leading source of bad breath.

Remember, even if you consume these aromatic foods and beverages, a healthy oral care routine can help keep your breath smelling fresh.

Final Thoughts

Bad breath happens. Don’t stress! While it may be humiliating, most cases of halitosis are treatable with simple changes to your lifestyle and dental health practice. However, suppose the problem persists or is followed by other symptoms of dental disease. In that case, it is recommended you visit a dentist as soon as possible to rule out more severe conditions. At Peel Dental Studio, we can carry out dental health checks on all patients of all ages.

Our dentists will ensure you receive the best possible treatment for bad breath for your specific needs with the highest quality of oral care available. Our team of professionals is committed to helping customers achieve optimal dental health through personalized oral care. At the same time, they relax in our comfortable environment. Regain your confidence and never worry about bad breath again! Please speak to us today at 08 9535 4900.

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Peel Dental Studio


Dr. Bailey formerly served on the Australian Dental Association as President, Vice President Treasurer and Country Councillor. He was on the Australian Dental Association Federal Council and has always been keen to give back to the profession that has been his life. He has tutored student dentists at the Oral Health Centre in Perth.