Written By Kevin Kerfoot And Jennifer Raskin / Reviewed By Ray Spotts
Feeling self-conscious about your breath? Everyone does from time to time, especially after eating garlic rolls or other potent foods. But when your bad breath seems to bowl everyone over, it might be time to figure out what’s causing it so you can stop letting it make that first impression for you.
While there is no concrete way to perform a halitosis test, a family member or close friend will usually tell you. It may be embarrassing to bring the topic up with your dentist, but they are there to help you if you fear you have a problem with bad breath.
Most dentists will tell you that 90 percent of bad breath bacteria - the germs that cause malodor - originate on the tongue. But halitosis also comes from things like gum disease and post-nasal drips/drainage and sinus infections.
The Causes of Bad Breath
Sometimes, bad breath is the result of something temporary. After all, just about everyone wakes up with “morning breath.” Other times, it’s an indicator that you have another health condition that you’ll want to treat. These causes of bad breath can help you find the best way to have a fresher mouth.
Poor oral hygiene
If you don’t take care of your teeth, you’re likely to have bad breath. Plaque collects bacteria and leads to bad breath. Trapped food between your teeth can cause quite the stink too. Letting it go unchecked can lead to gum disease which will give you bad breath.
That’s why dentists recommend you brush your teeth at least twice per day and floss at least once a day. If you find your breath isn’t staying fresh with this regimen, brush and floss a little more often. Don’t go overboard though or you can wear your teeth down and cause damage.
Certain foods will sour your breath fast. Garlic and onions are among the most potent and may not always be removed with brushing. The components in these foods that cause their odor get into your bloodstream, which goes into your lungs, so you’re exuding them every time you breathe.
Even if you have immaculate teeth and gums, you can surely knock someone out with garlic breath. If you need to make a good impression for a work presentation or on a first date, it’s best to avoid these potent foods.
Some of the most common foods that cause bad breath include onions, garlic, fish, eggs, and milk. If you know you’re going to be out and around other people, you might want to save those ingredients or meals for another time.
Eggs do contribute to bad breath because of the sulfuric compounds in them. Sometimes the halitosis symptoms don’t appear until hours after you’ve eaten them.
If you smoke, you already know the risks it imposes to your health. That said, it can also give you smelly breath. Even when you brush it away, you’ll likely retain the odor on your skin, hair, clothes, and your lungs too.
Many allergy medications – and the allergies they are for - can cause dry mouth. Mucus from sinus cavities moves down the back of the throat and provides a food source for bacteria. Post-nasal drip - which can also result from allergies - can cause bad breath and become infected which increases the amount of bacteria in your mouth.
Bad breath and tooth decay can happen to anyone that doesn’t create enough saliva. A dry mouth is the perfect scene for this scenario to take place. If you’re reading this now and your mouth is dry, guzzle more water. The more hydrated you are, the less likely you are to have dry mouth and bad breath that comes from it.
Any medication that alters your normal oral flora - such as antibiotics - or dries up your natural saliva flow - such as decongestants, allergy meds, or anxiety/depression prescriptions - could potentially set you up for developing bad breath.
Underlying health conditions could be to blame if you’ve been overseeing your oral health and nothing has changed. You may want to make an appointment with your doctor to see if there’s another reason behind your bad breath.
If your bad breath is because of gum disease, then a scaling (deep cleaning) is the first step to getting your halitosis back in check. However, after those bacterial deposits are cleaned off your teeth, you’ll need to keep flossing and brushing to see permanent results.
Teeth, tongue or cavities
Your tongue is covered with hundreds of tiny papillae, which can trap odorous bacteria and food debris, but if you have active gum disease, there may be large amounts of smelly bacteria across the surfaces of your tooth roots or tongue.
Cavities do not normally cause bad breath, but large cavities – which are obviously visible due to their size – may harbor odorous bacteria. If a tooth is abscessed and starting to drain, that pus can cause a bad taste or smell.
Plaque, candida and gingivitis
Physically removing dental plaque through daily brushing and flossing is the first step. Next, supplement your oral hygiene routine with an essential oil-based, alcohol-free mouthwash. Finally, schedule regular cleanings with your dental hygienist to remove buildup that accumulates between checkups.
Plaque can cause bad breath because it is made up of various types of bacteria, all of which can produce bad odors. But most notably is calculus – which is calcified plaque – and how it’s closely linked to gum disease.
Candida can cause bad breath because any time the natural flora inside of your mouth is altered, there can be an overgrowth of good or bad bacteria. As such, candida (yeast) infections may lead to bad breath.
Lungs, stomach and acid reflux
Bad breath is typically due to inappropriate oral hygiene, or dental disease such as gingivitis, gum disease or severe decay. Most people are unaware of scents or odors that they give off themselves.
Other times, they simply become accustomed to it to the point where they no longer notice it, even if it is obvious to others. Just because you can’t tell you have bad breath doesn’t mean that others don’t.
Bad breath can come from your lungs because people with respiratory diseases, sinus drainage, congestion, or other types of airway-related infections are likely to experience bad breath to some extent.
If you have a gastrointestinal problem or eat something known for causing bad breath, it can cause you to have halitosis for several hours thereafter. People who have acid reflux disease do tend to occasionally experience bad breath. But if you have chronic halitosis, there’s likely something else going on. It’s best to talk to your dentist and/or doctor.
Appendectomy, tonsillectomy or strep throat
Bad breath can be linked with periodontal disease, respiratory diseases (including pneumonia), gastrointestinal illnesses, and sometimes organ failure or cancer although those are less common.
Appendectomies themselves don’t cause bad breath but anytime someone is hospitalized or undergoes emergency surgery, there’s a likely chance that they go a few days without keeping up with their normal oral care routine. As a side effect, they could experience temporary bad breath.
Having your tonsils removed usually requires several days or up to a week of recovery after your surgery. In the meantime, your mouth is sore and your diet is restricted to softer foods.
Changes in your diet, increased bacteria from not brushing and flossing, and the scarred tissues at the back of your throat all create the perfect recipe for bad breath.
Technically, bad breath isn’t a warning sign of strep throat. But when you have an oral infection, it’s only natural to develop halitosis as a side effect. And if your doctor puts you on antibiotics to treat your strep throat, the medication could also contribute to your bad breath due to changes in your normal oral flora.
Pregnancy, constipation and dehydration
Pregnancy is not a sign of bad breath. Aside from your normal symptoms of morning sickness or fatigue, it’s not natural to experience issues such as halitosis or bad breath during early pregnancy.
When you’re expecting, things like brushing or flossing your teeth could trigger your sensitive gag reflex. If it’s difficult to clean your mouth or you’re struggling with bouts of morning sickness, you might start to experience some trouble with bad breath. Fortunately, this is usually temporary. As your hygiene routine improves, your halitosis will too.
Constipation and dehydration cannot cause bad breath. Gastrointestinal problems may occasionally contribute to bad breath, but constipation is not one of them. Being dehydrated can lead to an electrolyte imbalance, which in turn is linked with ketosis. Although bad breath isn’t the biggest concern when that happens, it could be a sign that something is wrong.
Drinking plenty of water, cleaning your tongue, daily flossing, brushing, and an alcohol-free mouthwash are helpful. However, if your halitosis is due to gum disease, you will need to schedule a professional dental cleaning to remove the bacteria deep under your gums.
Fasting, dieting or gluten intolerance
Changes in your diet can lead to a number of side effects including the way your breath smells, body odor, or even the color of your urine. Fasting, a low-carb or keto diet usually doesn’t cause bad breath, but if your body reaches the point where it goes into clinical ketosis, then yes, you are likely to experience changes in your breath.
Some types of foods have heavier sulfuric compounds than others. If you eat certain vegetables – such as Brussels sprouts – it can lead to bad breath. As such, vegans and vegetarians are encouraged to rotate different foods through their diet to keep nutrition in balance without unwanted side effects.
Going into ketosis can change the way your breath and body smell. But being on a ketogenic (keto) diet usually isn’t enough to cause any significant issues when it comes to halitosis.
Individuals with gluten allergies or a wheat intolerance such as Celiac disease commonly experience issues such as odorous gas. They may also develop odd tastes inside of their mouth. Bad breath, however, isn’t uncommon.
Tooth extractions, braces, crowns and veneers
A tooth extraction can cause bad breath. It’s common for someone who recently had a tooth pulled, removed or extracted to experience bad breath. The halitosis tends to last for a few days while the extraction site heals. Cleaning your mouth thoroughly can limit the extent of the odor.
Braces cannot cause bad breath. The only reason someone would experience bad breath linked with orthodontic treatment is if they aren’t cleaning around their braces properly. Keep in mind that if you are a mouth breather, because of the appliances, it could raise your chances of having bad breath.
Sometimes odorous bacteria will collect around crowns or other dental work if you do not floss them regularly. Chances are, there is bacteria or food debris lodged somewhere around the tooth. Left unaddressed, your crown could fall off.
Veneers are tightly bonded to your teeth, so there’s not space around or underneath the edges for odorous bacteria to accumulate. If you do not brush or floss them regularly, areas of leakage can develop.
Wisdom tooth removal
Widsom tooth removal can cause bad breath. Since multiple extraction sites are present following wisdom tooth surgery, it’s common for those patients to experience bad breath while their incision areas are healing. If you develop a dry socket, the halitosis can last up to a couple of weeks or more.
Tonsils, mono, sinus infections and sulfur gas
If you tend to experience chronic tonsillitis, tonsil stones, or a sore throat, chances are there’s an increased level of bacteria surrounding your tonsils. And since your tonsils are practically impossible to clean, bad breath is common.
Tonsils don’t cause bad breath, but if you have infected tonsils or tonsil stones, you likely have bad breath bacteria tucked in and around them. As such, you could see halitosis symptoms get worse whenever you experience tonsil flare-ups.
Active sinus infections do cause bad breath. So, if you struggle with frequent nasal drainage, allergies, or upper respiratory sinus infections, chances are you’ll also have halitosis.
If you or your child has mono, it’s common to see white patches at the back of your throat. Symptoms like swollen lymph nodes are also common. As such, there’s sometimes an excess of bacteria inside of your mouth, which can change the way your breath normally smells.
Some types of bad breath are due to sulfur gas, while others are because of necrotic (dying) tissues or infection inside of your mouth. Sulfur gas, however, comes from foods that we eat. So, if you have a meal with eggs or Brussels sprouts, you’re more likely to experience some type of sulfur gas odor later in the day.
Ulcers, diabetes, liver problems and sickness
Minor to moderate ulcers shouldn’t affect what your breath smells like. However, if you have a serious ulcer outbreak or cold sores, it could be painful to clean your mouth. As a result, it could cause your breath to stink.
People with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing gum disease. Although periodontitis is known for causing bad breath, diabetes is not. The only time most diabetics see a change in the smell of their breath is if they’re going into some type of glycemic shock.
Bad breath can be a sign of a liver problem. A condition known as “fetor hepaticus” can cause you to have bad breath when your liver is shutting down or diseased. It’s caused by unfiltered sulfur particles finding their way back into your bloodstream and airway.
When we’re ill, we tend to get swollen lymph nodes, increased mucus in the back of our throat - depending on why you’re sick - and are less likely to keep our mouth clean because we just don’t feel well. As a result, bad breath tends to flare up whenever we come down with a bug.
Cancer and HIV
Although rare, it is possible for bad breath to be linked with certain types of cancers - especially those related to your stomach, liver, esophagus, lungs, or other respiratory and gastrointestinal tissues.
Individuals with HIV/AIDS tend to be extremely high risk for developing periodontal disease. And it just so happens that periodontitis is one of the most common causes of moderate to severe bad breath.
Morning breath is common. Since our mouths dry out at night while our saliva glands shut down, it can make them feel sticky and gross when we wake up.
The lack of saliva flow also means that there are probably more bacteria inside of your mouth when you wake up in the morning than the night before. Snoring or mouth breathing can make morning breath worse.
To cure morning breath, cleanse your mouth thoroughly before bed and drink plenty of water. Be sure you take any medications for allergies or acid reflux. Upon waking, cleanse your mouth thoroughly or rinse with a bit of non-alcoholic mouthwash such as water mixed with a few drops of essential oils.
Children and bad breath
Children tend to exhibit signs of bad breath when they breathe through their mouth or have problems with allergies or sinus drainage. But if neither exists, ask your dentist to evaluate your child for signs of an oral infection or tooth decay.
Babies do not get bad breath from teething. The only time babies might have bad breath is if they have an issue going on such as thrush or a similar oral infection. Teething might make their gums sore – which makes it more difficult to clean their mouth – but it shouldn’t be the source of breath malodor.
Pets and Bad breath
If your pet gets bad breath, it could be from something they ate such as a dead animal, waste byproduct, or digging in the neighbor’s trash. It can also be caused by gum disease, respiratory infection, or gastrointestinal disorder.
Bad breath and Genetics
Since bad breath is usually because of a person’s oral hygiene habits or medical condition, it’s rare for those health issues to be transferred to someone else. However, oral bacteria can be spread through kissing or sharing food, so be sure to brush and floss routinely to prevent it from settling around your teeth and gums.
Sometimes issues such as allergies or poor oral hygiene habits tend to run in families. As a result, there could be multiple family members who struggle with bad breath. But halitosis itself isn’t something that’s genetic or inherited.
What bad breath says about your health
Halitosis is closely linked with gum disease (periodontitis). The smell originates deep under the gums, where there are high levels of bacteria and necrotic (dying) tissues.
The way your breath smells can sometimes be a warning sign of medical problems like acid reflux or lung disease. But usually, bad breath just says that you’re not taking good care of your teeth and gums.
Having bad breath usually means that you’re not putting as much into your oral hygiene routine as you ought to. In most cases, it’s rooted with biofilm buildup or gum disease. But there are always instances where halitosis has nothing to do with your brushing and flossing habits.
Natural Ways to Fight Bad Breath
Improper oral hygiene is a major cause of bad breath in most cases. When you do not follow a strict oral health routine that involves brushing your teeth twice a day with an all-natural toothpaste, flossing and using an all-natural mouthwash, then you are opening the door to bacteria to take up residence in your mouth.
A build-up of bacteria leads to bad breath and potentially infected gum tissue. Other infections such as those of the sinuses or gastrointestinal tract may also cause bad breath.
If you think it could be an infection that is causing your bad breath, then you should visit your doctor for correct diagnosis and advice. Regardless of the cause, following a stringent oral health routine can help matters immensely. In addition to your oral health routine there are several things that you can do to get rid of bad breath.
Cut down on coffee, sugary drinks, and alcohol
Coffee lingers on your tongue, so while it might taste great, those you’re talking to can smell you across the room. Consider cutting down on coffee and choosing more water or green tea.
Sugary drinks and alcohol pose their own problems too. Not only do sodas contain harmful ingredients for your health and add empty calories, but they also lead to bad breath. As for alcohol, it dries out your mouth. You can counter that by cutting back or by drinking more water along with your alcoholic libations.
Get a tongue scraper
Most people forget to clean their tongues when brushing, but it’s an important step. You can use your toothbrush too, though a tongue scraper gets to all those trapped bits to remove smelly bacteria.
Go for sugarless gum
If you pop a piece of sugarless gum in your mouth 20 minutes after eating, it will boost saliva flow. Choose something with xylitol which will help reduce cavities and give you a cooling sensation.
Watch those breath mints
For breath mints, always choose sugar-free but remember, they can only give you a quick fix. Breath mints just mask the stench and don’t get rid of the bacteria that causes bad breath. Mints with sugar exacerbate the problem because the sugar lingers on your teeth and makes things worse.
Keep those dental appointments
Your dentist can help you with your bad breath woes. Make sure you keep those appointments every six months. And if that’s not possible, make sure you go at least once per year to have your teeth examined and cleaned.
If the dentist comments on how healthy your teeth and gums look but you still have bad breath, you will want to see your doctor to find out what’s causing it - unless of course you’ve just had a garlicky meal followed by a cappuccino. That will always make your breath smell foul, but at least you know how to handle it now!
If you are experiencing bleeding gums, broken teeth, or sensitivity to sweet, hot or cold, you are most likely suffering from active decay or other disease that may need to be addressed by a dentist.
Brushing and Bad breath
Brushing can give you bad breath because it could be that the bad breath smell is scattered across your tongue, still resides under your gumlines, or is due to sinus drainage in the back of your throat.
Flossing and bad breath
Flossing will help bad breath. Since odorous bacteria tend to get trapped between teeth and below the gumlines, flossing is the only way to thoroughly clean it out.
Water Flossers and bad breath
Waterpiks are a popular brand of water flosser or oral irrigator. They’re ideal for cleaning hard-to-reach areas such as between teeth, under dental bridges, and under the gums. If you have difficulty flossing, a water flosser could help with your bad breath woes.
Breath testers and bad breath
Breath tests are made to pick up on sulfuric compounds, which are a primary source of bad breath. But they’re not guaranteed 100 percent if your bad breath is caused by something else.
Some people say that they can test their bad breath by scraping their tongue with a spoon, wiping the residue on their hand, then smelling it a short time later. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work - and most of us tend to be immune to picking up on our own body odor.
Breath pills and bad breath
If your halitosis is because of changes in your oral flora, then supplementing with something like a probiotic could be helpful. But in most cases, physical removal of the bacteria is necessary. That’s not something that a bad breath pill can fix.
Probiotics and bad breath
Probiotics can be helpful for some types of bad breath, especially if it’s due to antibiotic use. But ultimately the best treatment is physically removing the bacteria responsible for the odor.
Hydrogen Peroxide and bad breath
Hydrogen peroxide can kill some types of bacteria, but it will also alter the natural flora inside of your mouth. Used too often, rinsing or brushing with peroxide might cause bad breath instead of helping it.
Chlorophyll and bad breath
Looking for a holistic option for treating bad breath? Chlorophyll is the compound that gives plants their bright green color. It’s also a natural deodorizer. Some people find that taking chlorophyll supplements can help with their bad breath.
Cinnamon for bad breath
Cinnamon is a spice that can protect your oral health by eradicating bacteria. Its pleasant scent also leaves your breath fresh and clean smelling. Chewing on some cinnamon is a natural and effective way to keep your breath smelling good.
Citrus Fruits for bad breath
Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit are excellent choices when you want to overcome bad breath or other oral health issues. They contain high amounts of vitamin C and citric acid, which are very effective at eradicating bacteria in the mouth.
Fiber for bad breath
Fruits and vegetables that contain a high amount of fiber have also been shown to be effective at improving oral health and getting rid of bad breath. Some of the fresh foods that are packed with fiber and which help saliva production and to ward of bad breath include apples, celery, carrots and sweet potato.
Fish Oil for bad breath
The omega-3 oils in fish oil are very effective at reducing bacterial growth in your mouth. Fish oil has many other benefits for your overall health too.
Mint Leaves for bad breath
You can chew your way to fresher breath with a few mint leaves. Clove, Cardamom seeds, fennel seeds and parsley are also good choices to freshen up your breath.
Tea for bad breath
Green tea is a natural antioxidant, meaning that it can potentially help with the source of your bad breath. Sipping on a natural tea such as Fenugreek tea also works well to freshen your breath.
Keep in mind, if you’re adding any type of sweetener - whether it’s sugar or a sugar substitute to your tea - you’re giving the bacteria something to feed on and your breath could get worse.
Milk for bad breath
Believe it or not, milk is a great deodorizer for some of those offensive odors. You can try it along with water to see if it helps.
Use natural mouthwash for bad breath
A natural mouthwash or spray without alcohol is the best way to add an extra measure of freshness after brushing. One that kills bad breath germs is ideal too so you’ll feel fresher for longer. Always avoid alcohol in mouthwash with an all-natural alternative.
Keeping oral flora in balance is important, so using natural products such as a few drops of essential oils in water can also be beneficial.
Use natural toothpaste for bad breath
The best toothpaste for bad breath is one that is used properly with an efficient brushing method that removes all oral bacteria. Most over-the-counter toothpastes contain a mild mint flavor that provides a short duration of a fresh scent in the mouth.
Finding a toothpaste that contains essential oils – such as sweet almond oil, spearmint or peppermint – can help freshen your breath for a longer period between brushing sessions. One of the best things you can do to fight off bad breath as well as prevent mouth and gum issues such as gum disease is brush twice a day and rinse with an all-natural toothpaste.
Looking for a 100% all-natural liquid tooth oil and mouth rinse? Check out OraMD Original Strength and OraMD Extra Strength. Subscribe to our Trusted Health Club newsletter for more information about natural living tips, natural health, oral care, skincare, body care and foot care. If you are looking for more health resources check out the Trusted Health Resources list.
Jennifer Raskin is a freelance writer, wife and mom that loves cold weather despite her location in Florida, cooking, reading, watching ‘80s movies, weight-lifting, and wine tasting.
With over 30 years of writing and editing experience for newspapers, magazines and corporate communications, Kevin Kerfoot writes about natural health, nutrition, skincare and oral hygiene for Trusted Health Products’ natural health blog and newsletter.
Founder Ray Spotts has a passion for all things natural and has made a life study of nature as it relates to health and well-being. Ray became a forerunner bringing products to market that are extraordinarily effective and free from potentially harmful chemicals and additives. For this reason Ray formed Trusted Health Products, a company you can trust for clean, effective, and healthy products. Ray is an organic gardener, likes fishing, hiking, and teaching and mentoring people to start new businesses. You can get his book for free, “How To Succeed In Business Based On God’s Word,” at www.rayspotts.com.