Bad Breath and What You Can Do About It

Bad breath (halitosis) is one of the most common dental complaints, affecting up to 25% of the population. It can cause distress, embarrassment, and anxiety among sufferers, but fortunately, it’s usually very easy to treat. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of bad breath and what you can do to freshen up…

Poor oral hygiene

The bacteria in your mouth are essential for breaking down food, but they release unpleasant-smelling chemical compounds in the process. If you don’t brush and floss regularly, food particles can get trapped around teeth and dentures, under your gums, inside cavities, and even on the surface of your tongue. This allows the bacteria to flourish, leading to bad breath, plaque, and gum disease.

Food and drink

Even with a good dental hygiene routine, some strongly-flavored foods and drinks tend to linger. Garlic and onions are the main culprits, but spices, coffee, and alcohol can also leave an unpleasant odor.

This lingering effect is thanks to certain chemicals breaking down and remaining your system. They enter your lungs through the bloodstream, so you continue to exhale the chemicals until they disappear from your body altogether.


Tobacco smoke is made up of thousands of chemicals, many of which have a strong, unpleasant smell. These chemicals linger in your lungs, airways, and mouth for hours after you smoke, creating that unmistakably pungent ‘smoker’s breath’. They also contribute to dry mouth, plaque, and gum disease, all common causes of bad breath.


Certain diets or eating plans are known to cause bad breath. This is especially common when beginning a fasting, low-carbohydrate and ketogenic diet, where your body breaks down fat to create ketones for energy. When emitted through your breath, ketones have an unpleasant, sweet-sour odor, but this disappears with time.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth happens when you don’t produce enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth can be a side effect of mouth-breathing, salivary gland problems, or certain medications.

Saliva is essential for neutralizing plaque acids and maintaining a healthy pH balance in your mouth. Without it, the type and quantity of bacteria in your mouth changes, which can cause your breath to change, too. You might notice this when you wake up with ‘morning breath’, for example.

Saliva also washes away dead cells and food particles from your gums, cheeks, and tongue. If your mouth is dry, this leaves the organic matter to decay and decompose unchecked. Of course, an unpleasant smell is the result.

Illness or Infection

Bad breath is sometimes caused by an underlying illness or infection.

Bacteria from an infection in the mouth, nose, throat, or respiratory system can release foul-smelling toxins via your breath. Examples include sinusitis, tonsillitis, pneumonia, abscesses, or infected wounds from surgery.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD) can cause halitosis due to the constant reflux of stomach acid into the mouth. Certain cancers, kidney disease, liver failure, and metabolic disease can all cause bad breath due to the breakdown of certain chemicals, which are then released via your breath.


Some drugs cause bad breath by reducing saliva production (see Dry Mouth), while others produce an odor as they break down and release chemicals. Common offenders are nitrates (prescribed for angina), chemotherapy drugs, and certain tranquilizers. Vitamin overuse is also a known cause of bad breath.

How to manage bad breath

Depending on the cause, bad breath is fairly simple to treat. A regular, consistent dental hygiene routine is the first step, and most people find that this alone is enough to freshen their breath. It also helps to reduce plaque build-up and protect you from cavities and gum disease, both common causes of bad breath.

Brush and floss thoroughly twice a day to remove food particles and bacteria build-up from your mouth. Don’t forget to brush your tongue, too, or even invest in a tongue-scraper. Finally, to rinse away debris and reduce bacteria levels, finish with an antibacterial mouthwash.

Limit strong foods

If you like strong flavors such as garlic and onion, you’ll already know that brushing alone won’t get rid of the smell. If you can’t bring yourself to limit your favorite foods and drinks, you can chew sugar-free gum and use a breath freshener to minimize the smell until the food leaves your system.

Quit smoking

You can neutralize the smell of cigarettes on your breath to some extent, but it is almost impossible to eliminate completely. For the sake of your dental and overall health, the best course of action is to try to quit smoking.

Manage dry mouth

You can manage dry mouth by drinking lots of water, breathing through your nose, using a humidifier at home, and avoiding drying coffee, tobacco, and alcohol-free mouthwash. If there’s a medical cause, such as blocked sinuses or medication, see your physician for help.

Visit your physician

If you have symptoms of an infection like pneumonia, tonsillitis, sinusitis, see your physician right away. If the infection is causing your bad breath, then it will likely be resolved as the infection clears. If you suspect that medication or chronic illness is causing your bad breath, speak to your care provider about ways to manage your symptoms.

When to see your dentist about bad breath

If a consistent oral hygiene routine doesn’t get your bad breath under control, then it’s time to see a professional. We can provide a thorough cleaning to reduce plaque and bacteria, and we can check for problems like cavities, infection, abscess, or gum disease that need to be treated 

Banish bad breath now!

We know just how self-conscious bad breath can make you feel, but you don’t have to live with the anxiety or embarrassment of halitosis. If you need advice on improving your dental hygiene, or if you suspect an underlying problem, we can help. Call Meadowbrook Dental Care now at (516) 231-1742  to arrange an appointment.

You Might Also Enjoy...

4 Myths About Wisdom Teeth

Getting your wisdom teeth removed is something of a rite of passage for teens and 20-somethings these days. But does everyone even have wisdom teeth? And do they always need to be removed? It’s time to learn the truth.

Why You Shouldn't Ignore Recurrent Jaw Pain

Jaw pain can vary from mild discomfort when you open wide to severe pain that keeps you from chewing or speaking normally. There are many possible causes of recurring jaw pain, but one thing is always true: You shouldn’t ignore signs of pain.

Benefits of Bone Grafting

Whether a tooth is extracted or falls out on its own, the vacancy it creates can compromise your oral health. Missing teeth increase your risk of bone loss and other tooth problems, but bone grafting strengthens your jaw to keep your mouth healthy.

Why Is It Important to Visit the Dentist Regularly?

Would you believe that 178 million Americans are missing at least one tooth, and 40 million are missing all of their teeth? It would be no exaggeration to say that regular visits to the dentist may have prevented most of these outcomes.

How Cosmetic Dentistry Is More Than Just a Smile Makeover

As you probably can guess, cosmetic dentistry is a branch of dentistry that aims to improve the appearance of your smile. But the benefits don’t stop there. Keep reading to explore how cosmetic dentistry can do more than make over your smile.

The Best Foods to Support a Healthy Smile

Can you guess someone’s diet based on their dental health? Find out how the bacteria in your mouth and the foods you eat can either prolong the lifespan of your teeth or cause decay.