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Halitosis (Bad Breath)

What is halitosis?

Halitosis is an oral health condition characterized by consistently odorous breath. Often, identifying the cause of bad breath is the first step toward treating this preventable condition.

What causes bad breath?

There are just as many causes of bad breath as there are sources of bacteria in the mouth. Halitosis may be caused by the following:

  • Certain foods. The things you eat contribute largely to your oral health, including your breath. Items such as garlic and onions, or any food, are absorbed into the bloodstream, become transferred into the lungs, and are expelled in the air you breathe. Until that food becomes eliminated by the body, it has the potential to affect a person's breath.

  • Poor oral health care. Without proper and consistent brushing and flossing, and routine examinations by your dentist, food remains in the mouth, which is a breeding ground for bacteria. Food that is allowed to collect on the teeth, gums, and tongue may rot, which causes an unpleasant odor and taste in the mouth.

  • Improper cleaning of dentures. Dentures that are not cleaned properly may be collecting bacteria, fungi, and remaining food particles, which cause bad breath.

  • Periodontal disease. One of the primary symptoms of this gum disease is foul, odorous breath, and an unpleasant taste in the mouth. This condition requires immediate care by an oral health professional.

  • Xerostomia (dry mouth). This condition is often a primary contributor to halitosis. Characterized by a significant decrease in saliva production, the mouth is unable to cleanse itself and remove debris and particles left behind by food. Xerostomia may be caused by certain medications, a salivary gland disorder, or by continuously breathing through the mouth instead of the nose.

  • Tobacco products. Not only do tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and snuff stain the teeth and put the body at risk for a host of diseases, they also contribute to bad breath. Tobacco users also are at an increased risk for the following:

    • Periodontal disease

    • A loss of taste abilities

    • Irritated gums

    • Oral cancer

  • A medical condition. Bad breath may be an indicator or symptom of any of the following conditions. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Consult your physician for a diagnosis:

    • A respiratory infection

      • Infection of the nose, windpipe, or lungs

      • Chronic bronchitis

      • Postnasal drip

      • Chronic sinusitis

    • Diabetes

    • A gastrointestinal disorder

    • A liver or kidney disorder

Treatment for halitosis

Specific treatment for halitosis will be determined by your physician or dentist based on:

  • Health of your mouth

  • Cause or origin of the condition

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment depends primarily on the cause of the condition, including:


Possible Treatment Protocol

Poor oral health care

If the bad breath is of oral origin (improper oral health care), in most cases your dentist will treat the cause of the problem.

Gum disease

If the cause of the halitosis is an underlying gum disease, the condition may be treated by your dentist, or you may be referred to an oral specialist -- in most cases, a periodontist. A periodontal cleaning often helps to remove the bacteria and calculus that has accumulated and is causing inflammation at the gumline.

Extensive plaque buildup

Your dentist or periodontist may recommend an antimicrobial mouthrinse (a therapeutic mouthrinse). Also, you may be instructed to brush your tongue gently each time you brush your teeth to remove excess plaque and bacteria.