Bad breath (the medical term for which is halitosis) is an embarrassing but incredibly common oral health problem. In fact, it is estimated that bad breath impacts more than 50% of the general population around the globe.1 Yet many people who suffer from halitosis are completely unaware of their condition until it’s pointed out by someone else, often leading to uncomfortable social exchanges.
There are an immense variety of products on the market that promise to eliminate bad breath : Everything from mouthwashes to chewing gum, breath mints, and dissolving tongue strips. In most cases, however, these products only provide a temporary solution. Foul smelling breath can be caused by a number of underlying conditions; only by treating the root cause can chronic halitosis be stopped for good.
Experiencing a serious case of bad breath that won’t go away despite your best efforts? See a dentist as soon as possible to rule out more serious oral health issues.
What Causes Bad Breath?
We all know that bad breath can develop if you don’t brush your teeth – but do you know what’s happening on a molecular level? Bad breath takes place when volatile compounds are formed and released orally, whether or not those compounds originated in the mouth. These volatile substances may contain sulfur- or nitrogen-containing compounds, amines, alcohols, or ketones, all of which have a particular molecular structure that your brain registers as an unpleasant smell.2
The majority (90 percent) of halitosis cases originate in the mouth; the other 10 percent may be caused by gastrointestinal, respiratory, or other non-oral disease.1 If you experience bad breath only on occasion, it’s probably nothing to be concerned about: Most likely, it has to do with something you ate, an lapse in brushing or flossing, or simply a lack of flowing saliva (which plays a major role in ‘morning breath’). Luckily, adhering to proper dental hygiene habits is typically sufficient for combatting the average case of halitosis.
The following are some of the most common causes of bad breath:
Non-Oral Health Conditions
It is possible for bad breath to be caused by an associated health condition that plays a role in the release of volatile molecules on the breath. Dieting, snoring, stress, age, and hormonal changes – including menstruation – can also impact your breath.
The following diseases, among others not listed here, have been known to cause or worsen halitosis:4
How Can I Prevent or Reduce Bad Breath?
The majority of halitosis cases are easy to prevent. Implementing healthy dental habits, avoiding odor-causing foods, and regularly visiting your dentist for professional cleanings and examinations will all help keep your breath fresh. However, if bad breath persists despite these preventative measures - and underlying health problems and diseases have been ruled out - there are a few additional measures you can take to mitigate the problem:
Bad breath happens. Don't stress! While it may be humiliating, most cases of halitosis can be remedied with simple changes to your lifestyle and oral health routine. However, if the problem persists or is accompanied by other symptoms of dental disease, it is recommended you visit a dentist as soon as possible to rule out more serious conditions.
Looking for more information? Brush up on dental care basics:
Concerned about your breath? Find a dentist in your area.
1. Aylıkcı, Bahadır Uğur, and Hakan Colak. “Halitosis: From Diagnosis to Management.” Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, Jan. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3633265/.
2. Kapoor, Uditi, et al. “Halitosis: Current Concepts on Etiology, Diagnosis and Management.” European Journal of Dentistry, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4813452/.
3. “Halitosis.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association, www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/h/halitosis.
4. Armstrong, Brenda L, et al. “Halitosis: A Review of Current Literature.” UMN School of Dentistry, www.dentistry.umn.edu/sites/dentistry.umn.edu/files/halitosis.pdf.
5. “What You Should Know about Bad Breath.” The Journal of the American Dental Association, vol. 134, no. 1, 2003, p. 135., doi:10.14219/jada.archive.2003.0027.
6. Pedrazzi V, Sato S, de Mattos Mda G, Lara EH, Panzeri H. Tongue–cleaning methods: A comparative clinical trial employing a toothbrush and a tongue scraper. J Periodontol. 2004;75(7):1009–1012.
7. “Oral Health Topics - Toothbrushes.” ADA, American Dental Association, www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/toothbrushes.