Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Bad breath, also called halitosis, can be socially embarrassing and can cause anxiety. Although there are many over the counter products such as mouthwash for bad breath, they are only temporary measures if you don't address the cause of the problem.
Bad breath vary depending on the source or the underlying cause. Many people 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 questions.
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, they may refer you to a physician. Routine dental visits and professional dental cleanings are essential to diagnose and prevent bad breath.
Most bad breath starts in your mouth, and there are many possible causes.
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.
Tobacco products. Smokers and oral tobacco users are also more likely to have gum disease (periodontitis), another source of bad breath.
Poor dental hygiene. If you don't brush and floss daily, food particles accumulate (plaque) and promote bacterial growth between the teeth and around the gums, causing bad breath, gum inflammation (gingivitis) which left untreated leads to gum disease (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. Dry mouth or xerostomia 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.
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 sores.
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. 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.