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7 Surprising Causes of Bad Breath and How to Combat Them

Walking around with bad breath is embarrassing and can make you want to avoid social situations. But did you know it can also be dangerous to your health?

Many things can cause halitosis, including certain foods, smoking, and some medications. Some can even lead to a life-threatening condition. These include nitrates used to treat angina, antidepressants, and some chemotherapy drugs.

1. Dry Mouth

It is estimated that 90% of bad breath odor originates in the mouth. When you eat food, bits of it remain in and around the teeth, and bacteria break them down creating foul-smelling sulfur compounds. Some foods, like garlic and onions, produce bad odors even after brushing. Certain medicines can also cause bad breath by reducing saliva production, such as nitrates used to treat angina, and chemicals that break down other medications and release odor-causing chemicals.

Drink water throughout the day to hydrate and keep the mouth moist. Avoid drinking acidic beverages that can damage enamel and promote dry mouth, such as soft drinks, energy drinks, cordials, citrus fruits and juices, and alcohol. Instead, try sugar-free gum to promote the flow of saliva. Chewing on cloves is another great way to freshen breath, and it can help fight infection and kill germs in the mouth.

Try to eliminate odor-causing foods from your diet and if you are a frequent sufferer of bad breath, ask a close friend or family member to help assess the smell of your breath. Regular brushing and flossing, using a tongue scraper and mouthwash that is alcohol-free can all help combat odor-causing bacteria.

2. Poor Oral Hygiene

If you don’t brush your teeth and floss regularly, odor-causing bacteria can build up and cause bad breath. Food particles that get stuck between your teeth or on the tongue can also cause a foul smell, as well as gum disease.

Certain foods — like onions and garlic — can also make your breath smell bad, as can smoking and some diseases and medications. If you notice a sudden change in your breath, talk to your doctor or dentist about it. They may recommend using mouthwash or a special toothbrush to clean between your teeth and eliminate bacterial deposits. You may also explore a comprehensive Prodentim review to learn how this product supports oral hygiene by maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the mouth, fighting gum disease, and improving overall dental hygiene.

Many health conditions can contribute to bad breath, including dry mouth, acid reflux and tonsillitis. If your bad breath doesn’t improve with proper dental hygiene, consider seeing a medical specialist – in particular an ear, nose and throat doctor. They may recommend using a decongestant or other medicines to treat the condition that’s causing your bad breath. Drinking plenty of water can also help hydrate your body and keep your salivary glands working properly, so that you don’t develop dry mouth. Chewing sugar-free gum can help with dry mouth, as can rinsing with an antimicrobial mouthwash that kills odor-causing germs.

3. Smoking

Smoking causes stinky breath due to the fact that smoke contains odor-causing chemicals and because the tar in smokers’ lungs gives their breath an unpleasant smell. It also decreases saliva production which leads to a more acidic mouth environment where odor-causing bacteria thrive. Adding to this, cigarette and cigar use often causes gum disease which can cause bad breath.

Certain foods, like garlic and onions, can also cause stinky breath due to the fact that they linger in the mouth. A diet high in sugar can lead to halitosis as well because the bacteria that naturally live in the mouth feed on these sugars and create a sour smell.

Some illnesses and diseases can cause halitosis, including ulcers, sinus infections, bronchitis, and more. If you have a persistent problem with bad breath, consult your doctor to see if one of these conditions could be to blame.

It’s important to be proactive about your oral health and to visit your dentist regularly. It’s even more important to make sure you are taking the time to brush and floss your teeth properly and to clean your tongue. A little dedication can go a long way when it comes to fighting halitosis and making sure your breath is fresh and healthy.

4. Poor Diet

What you eat impacts how your breath smells. Certain foods like onions and garlic cause bad breath because when they’re digested, their breakdown products are carried in the blood to the lungs. Diets low in carbohydrates (like ketogenic diets) can also cause bad breath. This is because when the body breaks down fat for energy, it produces ketones, which have an acetone-like odor.

Other foods and drinks can also contribute to halitosis, including spicy foods, fried foods, coffee, alcohol, acidic beverages, fish and dairy. Even if you brush and floss regularly, if you eat the wrong things, your mouth may still stink.

Chronic bad breath is sometimes a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as kidney disease, respiratory tract infections and liver problems. The bacterial infection Helicobacter pylori can trigger bad breath, as well.

If you have persistent bad breath, it’s important to see your dentist and PCP for a complete evaluation. Regular cleanings and checkups can help detect issues like dry mouth or gum disease before they become serious. Brushing at least twice daily and flossing each day, along with using a tongue scraper can help remove food particles that can deteriorate and cause odors. Drinking lots of water keeps the mouth moist and helps rinse away odor-causing food debris.

father and son brushing their teeth - 7 Surprising Causes of Bad Breath and How to Combat Them
5. Allergies

It’s no secret that what you eat affects your breath. Garlic and onions are commonly known to cause bad breath, but other foods that contain high amounts of sulfur like protein-rich meats or strong spices can also give off foul odors. Once these foods are broken down in the body, they are carried to the lungs to create smelly sulphur compounds.

Food particles can also get caught between the teeth and on the tongue, causing odors. Certain health conditions, such as chronic mouth infections and acid reflux, can contribute to bad breath as well. In rare cases, halitosis can be caused by a foreign object lodged in the throat or nose, such as a tonsil stone.

Some medications can cause dry mouth, allowing odor-producing bacteria to grow. These include nitrates used to treat angina, some chemotherapy chemicals and phenothiazines. Certain allergies can also stifle saliva flow, increasing odors. The American Dental Association recommends staying hydrated and chewing sugarless gum to help keep the mouth moist. Changing your medications or using special oral rinses can also help.

6. Tonsil Stones

While everyone has bad breath from time to time, chronic halitosis may be a sign of an underlying health problem. Bad-smelling breath could be a symptom of gum disease (called gingivitis) or other dental problems, postnasal drip, respiratory tract infections like pneumonia, tonsil infections and even diabetes.

These conditions may cause food, bacteria and dead cells to collect in the mouth, resulting in a foul smell. Tonsil stones, small clusters of hardened bacterium and food particles that form in the ridges of the tonsils (located at the back of the throat), are also known as tonsilloliths and can trigger a sour, bitter or fishy breath odor.

Sinus infections and other respiratory tract illnesses can also cause bad breath, since odor-causing bacteria feed on mucus. If you have bad breath that doesn’t improve after improving your oral hygiene habits, see your dentist or a doctor who specializes in ear, nose and throat. You might need to be referred to an internist or a specialist who treats the condition that’s causing your bad breath — in many cases, treating the underlying problem will eliminate the odor and improve your breath.

7. Acid Reflux

Bad breath, or halitosis, is often simply your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t right. The odors of certain foods, smoking and postnasal drip can all contribute to stinky breath. But when halitosis is caused by acid reflux or other digestive problems, the odors from your stomach can make their way back up the throat and into the mouth. This is especially true of fatty or spicy foods, as well as acidic foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits and soda.

Luckily, if your halitosis is caused by a digestive condition, it’s usually easy to treat. Just be sure to talk to your dentist and primary care doctor about it. They may suggest that you elevate the head of your bed at night or try using a foam wedge to prevent reflux. They may also recommend limiting certain foods that promote reflux and taking medications to help manage the symptoms. If your halitosis doesn’t improve with these steps, you may want to consider seeing an oral medicine specialist. These specialists specialize in salivary gland disorders, facial pain conditions and the oral complications of cancer therapies.