Breath odor affects everyone at some point. Bad breath is
also known as halitosis or fetor oris. Odor can come from the mouth, teeth, or
as a result of an underlying health problem. Bad breath odor can be a temporary
problem or a chronic condition. According to the American Dental
Association, at least 50 percent of adults have had halitosis in their
What Are the Symptoms of Breath Odor?
In addition to a bad smell in your mouth, you may also
notice a bad taste in your mouth. If the taste is due to an underlying
condition and isn’t because of trapped food particles, it may not disappear
even if you brush your teeth and use mouthwash.
What Causes Breath Odor?
Poor Dental Hygiene
Bacteria breaks down food particles trapped in the teeth or
mouth. The combination of the bacteria and decaying food in your mouth produces
an unpleasant odor. Brushing and flossing regularly removes trapped food before
Brushing also removes plaque, a sticky substance that builds up on your teeth and causes
odor. Plaque buildup can cause cavities and periodontal disease. Bad breath
also can be a problem if you wear dentures and don’t clean them every night.
Strong Foods and Beverages
When you eat onions, garlic, or other foods with strong
odors, your stomach absorbs oils from the foods during digestion. These oils
pass into your bloodstream and travel to your lungs. This produces an odor that
others can notice in your breath for up to 72 hours. Drinking beverages with
strong odors, such as coffee, can also contribute to bad breath.
Smoking cigarettes or cigars causes a bad odor and dries out
your mouth, which can make your breath odor even worse.
Dry mouth can also occur if you don’t create enough saliva.
Saliva helps keep your mouth clean and reduces odor. Dry mouth can be a problem
if you have a salivary gland condition, sleep with your mouth open, or take
certain medications, including those that treat high blood pressure and urinary
Periodontal disease happens when you don’t remove plaque
promptly from teeth. Over time, plaque hardens into tartar. You can’t remove tartar by
brushing, and it can irritate your gums. Tartar may cause pockets, or small
openings, to form in the area between the teeth and gums. Food, bacteria, and
dental plaque can collect in the pockets, causing a strong odor.
Sinus, Mouth, or Throat Conditions
Bad breath odor may develop if you have:
- a sinus infection
- postnasal drainage
- chronic bronchitis
- an infection in your upper or lower respiratory
Tonsil stones also can be a source of bad breath because
bacteria tend to collect on the stones.
Unusual breath odor can be a symptom of some diseases,
including kidney disease, diabetes, and gastroesophageal reflex disorder
(GERD). GERD is a relatively common cause of halitosis. If you have kidney or
liver failure or diabetes, your breath may smell fishy. When your diabetes isn’t
under control, your breath may smell fruity.
How Is Breath Odor Diagnosed?
Your dentist will smell your breath and ask you questions
about your problem. They may recommend you schedule an appointment for the
morning, before you brush your teeth. You can expect to answer questions
regarding how often you brush and floss, the kinds of food you eat, and any allergies
or diseases you may have. Tell your doctor how often you snore, what medications
you take, and when the problem started.
Your doctor will smell your mouth, nose, and tongue to
diagnose your problem. They’ll try to determine the source of the odor. If the
odor doesn’t seem to be coming from your teeth or mouth, your dentist will
recommend that you visit your family doctor to rule out an underlying disease
What Are the Treatment Options for Breath
If breath odor is due to a plaque buildup, a dental cleaning
may solve the problem. A deep dental cleaning may be necessary if you have
periodontal disease. Treating underlying medical problems, such as a sinus
infection or kidney disease, can also help improve breath odor. Your dentist
may recommend that you use an artificial saliva product and drink plenty of
water if dry mouth causes your odor problem.
How Can I Prevent Breath Odor?
You should brush your teeth two or more times each day. Floss
daily, making sure to get in between all of your teeth. Use antimicrobial
mouthwash daily to kill bacteria. Brushing your tongue with a toothbrush or
tongue scraper can also help remove bacteria.
Staying hydrated can often help to eliminate or prevent
breath odor. Drink water to wash away food particles and keep your mouth moist.
Quitting smoking if you smoke can also help keep your mouth moist and free of
There are several routines that can prevent breath odor. Clean
your dentures, mouth guards, and retainers daily. Replace your old toothbrush
with a new one every three months, and schedule a dental cleaning and
examination every six months.