What causes bad breath and how do I cure it?

Halitosis, commonly known as bad breath, is an unpleasant odor that emanates from the mouth. It affects millions of people worldwide and can be a major source of embarrassment and self-consciousness for many people. While there are several causes of halitosis, addressing the underlying source is the first step. Whether or not bad breath can be cured depends on where the bad breath originates. Finding the source and taking the appropriate steps will help cure and fix bad breath. Although in some cases, bad breath may not be curable but only managed and improved with proper oral hygiene and medical treatment.

What causes halitosis?

  1. Poor oral hygiene. When we eat, food particles get stuck in our teeth and on our tongue. If these food particles are not removed by brushing and flossing, they can begin to break down and release a foul odor.
  2. Oral infections. Untreated Infections such as gum disease and tooth decay can cause bad breath.
  3. Food and drink. Certain foods and drinks, such as garlic, onions, and coffee, can leave a lingering odor in the mouth.
  4. Dry mouth. A lack of saliva in the mouth can cause bad breath as saliva helps to wash away bacteria and food particles.
  5. Tobacco use. Smoking or using other tobacco products can cause bad breath and increase the risk of gum disease, which also contributes to halitosis.
  6. Medical conditions. Certain medical conditions such as sinus infections, respiratory tract infections, and liver or kidney disease can cause bad breath.
  7. Medications. Some medications can cause dry mouth, which can lead to bad breath.
  8. Poor digestion. Digestive issues such as acid reflux and constipation can cause bad breath.
  9. Poor cleaning of dental appliances. Dentures, partial dentures, retainers, clear aligners, mouthguards,or night guards that are not cleaned correctly can collect bacteria and remaining food particles that cause halitosis.

What does bad breath smell like?

Bad breath can have different smells depending on the underlying cause. Some common descriptions of bad breath odor include:

  1. Foul or rotten. This odor can be a sign of gum disease, cavities, or poor oral hygiene.
  2. Metallic. This odor can be caused by bacteria on the tongue or dental work.
  3. Fruity. This odor can be a sign of diabetes, as high levels of blood sugar can cause a sweet or fruity odor in the breath.
  4. Musty or moldy. This odor can be a sign of a sinus infection or other respiratory condition.
  5. Ammonia-like. This odor can be a sign of kidney disease or liver failure.
  6. Sour or acidic. This odor is often associated with acid reflux.

How can I cure halitosis?

  • Understanding the root cause is half the battle. If you are unsure where the bad breath is coming from, taking an at-home saliva test is a great start. With peri's convenient oral health test kit, the solution is delivered right to your doorstep. Simply follow the provided instructions and return the sample for detailed analysis of your saliva. You might be surprised if your bad breath is caused from an elevated gum disease or tooth decay score.
  • In most cases, improving oral hygiene will greatly reduce bad breath. Brushing twice a day for two minutes will remove any plaque buildup and food particles from your tooth surfaces. Brushing your tongue with a toothbrush or tongue scraper will also help remove odor-causing bacteria. Daily flossing between your teeth will also remove the plaque and food particles where your toothbrush can’t reach. Using a mouthrinse will also help reduce halitosis, just make sure that it is alcohol-free since alcohol can cause dry mouth and make your symptoms worse.
  • If your bad breath is caused from untreated gum disease or tooth decay, then it must be treated by a dental professional. Fillings, crowns, extractions, cleanings, or “deep” cleanings may be needed to get to the source of the problem.
  • Limit foods that cause halitosis such as, garlic, onions, dairy products, fish and seafood, spicy foods like curry or cumin.
  • To maintain saliva production, drink lots of water and consume foods that require lots of chewing, such as carrots. Additionally, chewing sugar-free gum or consuming sugar-free lozenges can help. In cases where adequate saliva production is still insufficient, artificial saliva may be recommended by your dentist.
  • If you smoke, focus on trying to quit. Not only will you have better smelling breath, but your entire body will be healthier.
  • If you have a pre-existing medical condition, it is best to get diagnosed and treated by a healthcare professional.
  • Medications may cause dry mouth which can lead to halitosis, so make sure you are keeping your mouth hydrated with plenty of water.
  • If you suspect that acid reflux might be the cause of your bad breath, it is important to talk to your doctor. Your doctor can assist you in managing your acid reflux which may improve your breath.
  • If you have an oral appliance, such as dentures or clear aligners, take them out to clean them daily. Use your toothbrush with either toothpaste or soap to remove debris. Just make sure not to use an abrasive toothpaste (such as ones that contain whitening agents) since they can wear down your appliance quickly.

Can I test for bad breath?

There are several ways to test for bad breath:

  1. The sniff test: Cup your hands over your mouth and nose, exhale, and then inhale through your nose. This will allow you to smell your own breath and determine if it’s fresh or not.
  2. The tongue test: Use a spoon or tongue scraper to scrape the back of your tongue and smell the residue. If it smells foul, it may be an indication of bad breath.
  3. The floss test: Floss between your teeth and smell the floss afterward. If it smells bad, it may be an indication of bad breath.
  4. The Halimeter test: This is a device that measures the level of sulfur compounds in your breath, which can cause bad breath. This can be found at some dental offices.
  5. The peri oral health test: This is an at-home saliva test that measures the bacteria related to gum disease and tooth decay which are a common cause of bad breath.

It is important to note that bad breath can be caused by a variety of factors, and some people might not be able to detect their own bad breath. If you are concerned about bad breath, consult a dentist or doctor for an evaluation.

About Dr. Kantor

Alexandra Kantor is a prominent dentist and entrepreneur, known for her contributions to the dental industry. With over 10 years experience as a practicing dentist, she has gained a deep understanding of her patient's oral health and overall well-being. In 2022, Dr. Kantor founded peri, an at-home saliva test that specializes in analyzing key bacteria within the mouth. Dr. Kantor holds a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the Indiana School of Dentistry and is dedicated to promoting oral health through advanced technology.