What is Causing Bad Breath (And What We Can Do About It)

For the sheer amount of frustration and embarrassment it causes, bad breath might just be one of the most difficult problems that you face in your day-to-day oral health. Bad breath is a major nuisance to the American public, which spends an estimated $10 billion on products to try and lessen or eliminate bad breath every year. Efforts to cover bad breath alone are destined to leave sufferers unhappy and still suffering. Understanding where bad breath is coming from and treating the problem where it starts gives you a chance at successfully treating the problem. Although there are numerous causes of bad breath, there are factors you can control to improve your breath. In broad strokes, bad breath causes fit into a few larger categories:

1. What you are putting into your mouth: food, coffee, tobacco

Garlic Breath. It has become its own, recognizable term for a specific, unpleasant breath odor. Foods with strong odors can leave a strong odor on the breath. High-sugar diets overfeed the bacteria on the teeth with malodorous consequences. Coffee is also known to leave a specific, lingering odor. Tobacco can leave an odor directly and can aggravate bad breath caused by dry mouth.

2. What you aren’t putting into your mouth: macronutrient-restricted diets

High protein diets, carbohydrate-restricted diets, and high-fat diets can start a metabolic process called ketosis. Unfortunately, ketones can leave a bad smell in the mouth.

3. What you aren’t getting out of your mouth: hygiene issues

Most bad breath issues are thought to be caused by inadequate oral hygiene. Every surface inside your mouth—your teeth, gums, cheeks, and tongue—can grow bacteria. When food particles are left behind by a less than thorough brushing and flossing routine, bacteria feed on the leftover food and overgrow. Long term neglect of proper oral care can even lead to periodontitis, a gum infection, which can cause persistent bad breath.

4. What your mouth is missing: xerostomia

Are you familiar with the dreaded morning breath? Nearly the entire population suffers from it at least once in a while. Saliva is the mouth’s natural defense; when the mouth is too dry the saliva can’t wash away the foul-smelling bacteria. Bad breath is the inevitable result. Morning breath tends to be worse in people who sleep with their mouth open because their mouths are drier from the mouth breathing. Medications that cause bad breath often do so because they cause dry mouth. Saliva actually acts to keep breath more pleasant.

5. The bigger picture: other health conditions

According to the Mayo Clinic, medical conditions ranging from GERD, to post-nasal drip, to infected tonsil stones, to metabolic conditions, to even cancers can cause bad breath. If improving oral care practices and treating dry mouth does not improve bad breath, consulting your physician can help you find an underlying cause and treat that cause.


So what can you do if you have bad breath? First and foremost, consider your oral care routine. Instead of trying to munch on mints all day, which can cause a sugar overload and as discussed, feed the problem. Use a quality tooth cleaning product and excellent technique to get your mouth properly clean.

Treating dry mouth can help treat unpleasant breath. Regular sips of water or chewing a xylitol gum can help keep mouths hydrated and healthy. Some people will attempt to use a breath-freshening spray. If you choose a spray, do not use one that contains alcohol. Instead, try a product that can help with dry mouth to see the most benefit. If none of the simple steps you’ve tried provide adequate relief, don’t hesitate or be embarrassed. Speak to your dentist or doctor (or both) to the source of the problem so you can treat the cause and not just fight the symptoms.

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