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What Causes Bad Breath?

Bad Breath (halitosis) is caused by poor dental hygiene or due to mouth dryness (xerostomia). However, specific foods, habits, certain medications, infections in the mouth, and other nose, throat, and mouth conditions can also contribute to having foul smelling breath.

bad breath

Find out what causes bad breath by reading our dentist‘s article below.

What Causes Bad Breath?

Poor Dental Hygiene

If you don’t brush or floss daily, food particles remain in your mouth and cause bad breath. A colorless, sticky film of bacteria (plaque) form on your teeth, and if it is not brushed away, it can irritate your gums and eventually cause plaque-filled pockets between your teeth and gums (periodontitis).

Furthermore, your tongue can also trap bacteria and produce odors. So, it is recommended that you floss and brush your teeth every single day to avoid having bad breath.

Mouth Dryness

Saliva cleanses your mouth by removing particles that cause bad odor. So, it makes sense that if the saliva is depleted, those particles and bacteria are not removed as effectively. Dry mouth occurs naturally while you sleep, and it gets even worse if you sleep with your mouth open. Chronic dry mouth, however, could be the sign of some diseases.


The breakdown of food particles in and around your teeth can increase bacteria and cause bad breath. But eating particular foods, such as onions, garlic, and spices, are at an increased risk of causing foul breath because after you digest these foods, they enter your bloodstream and are carried to your lungs—then, they affect your breath.


Habits like smoking cause an unpleasant mouth odor. And smokers and oral tobacco users are at an increased risk of developing gum disease, which also causes bad breath. The consumption of coffee and alcohol can also make your breath smell bad.


Certain medications like antihistamines, sedatives, amphetamines, antidepressants, diuretics (water pills), anticholinergics, and some antipsychotics are known for causing bad breath in some people. But certain vitamin supplements (especially in high doses) can also cause it.

These medications and supplements can indirectly produce bad breath by contributing to dry mouth, and others can be broken down in the body to release chemicals that can be carried on your breath.


Surgical wounds after oral surgery, such as tooth removal, or as the result of tooth decay, gum disease or mouth sores can make your breath smell bad.

Nose, Throat, and Mouth Conditions

Small stones on your tonsils that are covered in bacteria can produce odor. So can infections or chronic inflammation in the nose, sinuses, or throat (which can contribute to postnasal drip).

Other Causes

Diseases, such as some cancers, and conditions such as metabolic disorders, can cause distinctive odors of the breath as a result of the chemicals they produce. Chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which occurs when stomach acid repeatedly flows back into the tube connecting your mouth and stomach (esophagus), can be associated with bad breath.

And in young children especially, bad breath can be caused by a foreign body, like a piece of food, getting lodged in their nostrils.


Other than brushing your teeth and tongue every day, you can also gargle and rinse with peroxide, drink lots of water, eat yogurt (because it helps promote healthy bacteria in the gut, which fights bad breath internally), sip green tea (because it has antibacterial compounds which can help the mouth and gut fight unhealthy bacteria), and chew mint, parsley, basil, or cilantro because they will immediately mask the bad breath.

Most chewing gum, on the other hand, generally contain sugars and sweeteners that just promote bacteria and other halitosis causing agents. If you have dentures, you should also make sure that you are regularly cleaning them. Further, anyone should make sure that they are regularly getting new toothbrushes (about every three to four months) and keep up with regular dental checkups.

Preparing for a Dental Appointment for Bad Breath

If you’re going to your dentist to be evaluated for bad breath, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Dentists typically prefer to schedule these kinds of appointments in the morning, so that your food intake for the day will be limited.
  • Don’t wear perfumes, scented lotion, or scented lipstick or lip gloss to your appointment because they could mask the odors.
  • Check with your dentist if you’ve taken antibiotics within the last month of your appointment. In some cases, the appointment may need to be rescheduled for a later date.

Questions your dentist will likely ask:

  • When did you first begin to experience bad breath?
  • Is your bad breath occasional or continuous?
  • How often do you brush your teeth or clean your dentures?
  • How often do you floss?
  • What kinds of foods do you eat most often?
  • What medications and supplements do you take?
  • What health conditions do you have?
  • Do you breathe through your mouth?
  • Do you snore?
  • Do you have allergies or sinus problems?
  • What do you suspect might be causing your bad breath?
  • Have other people noticed and commented on your bad breath?

Contact Our Dentist If You Think You Need Help with Bad Breath

Bad breath, especially in the morning, can happen to anyone. But more chronic cases of foul smells emanating from your mouth may be cause for concern. If you or those around you notice a persistence in your bad breath, you should consult your dentist. He or she will likely smell both the breath from your mouth and the breath from your nose and rate the smell of both. And because the back of the tongue is the most common source of the smell, your dentist may also scrape it and rate that smell as well.

Our dentist can help you with recommendations, as well as dental cleaning to help with bad breath. Schedule your exam at our dental office by requesting an appointment online.

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Creating Smiles, PC, located in St. John and Valparaiso, Indiana, offers everything you need for a healthy smile and a healthier life. Dr. Kapers and his team can take the anxiety and uncertainty out of dental visits with sedation dentistry, and we're the premier provider of dental implants in the region.