Causes of Bad Breath

Causes of bad breath

Having a beautiful smile is wonderful, however it is also important to have a fresh breath as well. At the very least, most people want to make sure that their breath does not have any strong, foul odors. Unfortunately, the American Dental Association notes that as many as 50% of Americans have experienced bad breath at some point in their lifetime. 

There are certain things that can contribute to unpleasant smells that radiate from inside your mouth. Bad breath, more formally known as halitosis, can stem from the tongue, gums, or teeth. In some cases, it can also be the result of certain health conditions. In order to determine how to eliminate or reduce bad breath, let’s take a look at some of the most common causes: 

Poor Oral Hygiene

Bad breath can occur when poor oral hygiene practices allow excess bacteria to remain inside the mouth. Generally speaking the more bacteria inside the mouth, the stronger the odor. Bacteria reside in dental plaque found on the teeth and along the gum line. When plaque is left in place too long, it will eventually harden into tartar. 

When plaque and tartar accumulate along the gum line, this causes the gums to become inflamed and pull away from the teeth. This unfortunately causes pockets to form between the gums and teeth, which house more bacteria. Cases of bad breath caused by poor oral hygiene and gum disase are best treated by visiting your dentist for a dental cleaning. Additionally, you will want to practice good oral hygiene by brushing twice a day for two minutes and flossing daily.


woman with brown teeth smoking a cigarette

Smoking cigarettes is another common cause of bad breath because cigarettes produce a foul odor that remains in the mouth even after you are done smoking. Additionally, smoking cigarettes also causes a condition known as dry mouth, which is another main cause of bad breath. 

Dry Mouth

Like the name suggests, dry mouth is a condition where your mouth is unable to produce adequate amounts of saliva. Saliva is an essential part of keeping your mouth clean, so when there is less saliva, there is more bacteria. As mentioned before, the more bacteria in your mouth, the stronger the odor. However, the good news is that bad breath due to dry mouth can be managed by keeping your mouth wet. Stimulating saliva production by chewing gum, sucking on sugarless candies, and drinking water frequently are all measures you can take to improve bad breath due to dry mouth. 


woman putting a piece of gum in her mouth

The foods and beverages you eat and drink can also have an affect on the way your breath smells, especially when you consume foods or beverages that have a strong odor themselves. Coffee is one example of a strong beverage that produces temporary bad breath. Another example is onions and garlic. In fact, onions and garlic produce an oil that is absorbed into the body and can be detected in the breath for up to 72 hours after consumption. When your bad breath is due to diet, you can either minimize the amount of strong foods and beverages you consume or you can take measures like brushing, rinsing, or having a mint or gum after you eat or drink. 

Medical Conditions

Both temporary and chronic cases of bad breath can also be caused by certain medical condtions. Temporary cases of bad breath usually occur as the result of an infection that affects the tonsils, sinuses, bronchial tubes, nasal passages, or upper/lower respiratory system. Chronic cases of bad breath, on the other hand, can be caused by kidney disease, diabetes, or gastroesophaeal reflux disorder (GERD). To manage bad breath caused by medical conditions, you will first need to address and treat the condition. 

Photo of Dr. Admar

Dr. Admar holds dual certificates — a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) in 2010 from India and a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) in 2014 from Canada. He is now a full time practicing dentist in Kamloops where he provides a variety of services. Dr. Admar spends hundreds of hours in continued dental education to stay up to date in cosmetic and implant dentistry and he has achieved several advanced qualifications.

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