What is Halitosis (Bad Breath)?

Halitosis, the clinical term for bad breath, is a common problem, affecting as many as 25% of the population globally. Halitosis is not necessarily a disease, per se, but can frequently be a symptom of another condition. Bad breath is a concern for people because it is unpleasant and can have negative social consequences. It should be evaluated because it can be an early warning sign of other developing problems. That said, occasional bad breath associated with eating garlic-heavy foods or drinking coffee is no cause for alarm.

Common Causes

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Tobacco use
  • Untreated reflux disease
  • Dry mouth
  • Tonsil stones
  • Gum disease
  • Untreated infections
  • Other systemic medical conditions

Treatment Options

  • Improve oral hygiene
  • Discontinue tobacco use
  • Prevent dry mouth
  • Treat underlying infections and other medical conditions
  • Short term: sugar-free gum or mouth spray may help relieve symptoms while other problems are being addressed

Common Questions About Bad Breath:

How can I tell if I have bad breath?

A trusted friend or family member may have already alerted you to the problem. It is also possible to lick the back of your (clean) hand and smell the dried saliva if you are deeply concerned.

Who should I see about my bad breath, my doctor or my dentist?

Either or both. If the underlying cause of your bad breath is poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, or gum infections, your dentist is likely to be your best resource for treatment. If your bad breath is caused by other systemic medical conditions, your doctor will be able to help you treat those. If tonsil stones are causing your problems, you may need a specialist referral to an ENT, a doctor who specializes in ears, noses, and throats.

Could it be cancer?

Oral cancer can cause bad breath, but it is far more likely to come from another cause.

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