Bad breath (Halitosis): Causes and Remedies of Bad Breath

Jessica Lewis
April 19, 2017

Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is unpleasant for everyone, whether it appears after eating a particular food or it bothers us every morning before we brush our teeth. Experiencing bad breath is not a rare thing. According to the American Dental Association, at least 50 percent of adults have suffered from halitosis once in their lives. Even though most cases of halitosis are easy to treat, it gives many headaches and even leads to social isolation, especially when it affects the quality of one’s life. It isn’t easy to go on a date or to an interview knowing that your breath smells bad, but understanding what causes bad breath helps prevent it and even cure it.[1]

Symptoms of bad breath

It is easy to notice if you have bad breath.  In some cases, it is easier for people around you to tell if you experience it. Clearly, the most prominent symptom of bad breath is an unpleasant smell that comes from the mouth. A person with bad breath may also experience dry mouth, the coating on the tongue and an unpleasant sour taste and even taste changes.

Other symptoms may include the constant need to clear your throat and a continuous metallic taste, burning tongue, post-nasal drip, build up around teeth or a white coating on the tongue. If you suspect you have bad breath but aren’t sure, you could ask someone close to you. Once you have the certainty that bad odor causes you problems, you can work on regaining your breath‘s freshness. Bad breath is not a diagnosis but can be a symptom of a health issue or a result of an unhealthy lifestyle. Eliminating its cause allows you to enjoy a fresh breath again.

Foods that cause bad breath

The thought that bad breath can cause us problems frightens us so much that even makes us avoid eating certain foods, responsible for the appearance of an unpleasant mouth odor. However, we shouldn’t exclude these foods from the diet, but be careful to brush our teeth after eating them.

Garlic and Onion

onion_garlic_bad_breath_300x375It is easier to have a fresh breath for individuals who hate eating garlic or onion. For those who love these two foods, it seems impossible to resist eating them. It is true that our body absorbs allyl methyl sulfide in the bloodstream when it digests garlic. After eating it, we contaminate everyone around us with a smell that is not so pleasant. This is not the only problem for people who eat garlic because our body releases the gas through the skin.

It isn’t easier either for individuals who love eating onions. Onions contain the amino acid allicin, which turns to propenyl sulfenic acid when we cut it. This acid not only that make us cry, but it is also responsible for the powerful smell that situates the onion first in the list of foods that it is better to avoid for fresh breath. It is true that we can live without eating onion, even though it is famous for its powerful therapeutic benefits. If it is a must to eat onion at least twice a week, make sure you carry your toothbrush and toothpaste with you. You can reduce its effect by brushing your teeth after your meal, even when you have lunch with your friends.

Tuna Fish

tuna_fish_sandwitch_bad_breath_300x199Nothing seems more delicious than a tuna sandwich, especially when you are hungry and on the run. Unfortunately, eating a tuna sandwich is not such a good idea if you are far from home and you don’t carry your toothbrush and toothpaste with you. Trimethylamine (TMA) is the one responsible for the unpleasant “fishy” smell, as says the American Society of Nutrition.[2]

The unpleasant smell appears when seafood begins to oxidize, which happens during the process of canning. If it is impossible for you to brush your teeth after eating a tuna sandwich or other types of fish, it helps to chew gum, because it stimulates the flow of saliva, which will clean your mouth of any remaining food particles.

Coffee and Alcoholic Beverages

For some people is no better way of starting a day than by drinking strong coffee. This powerful source of energy is also responsible for mouth odor if we don’t drink a glass or a bottle of water afterward.  Bad breath appears after drinking coffee or alcohol because these cause dry mouth, which allows the bacteria to survive. Drinking water after serving caffeinated or alcoholic beverages eliminates the bacteria and therefore, helps us get rid of bad breath.

Medications that lead to bad breath

Even though we take drugs with the only purpose to recover from different health problems, some of them can produce side effects and affect our health. Using certain medications leads to halitosis because they reduce saliva flow and increase odors. Other drugs produce odor because of how they breakdown in our body and release chemicals in our breath. For instance, medications recommended for treating angina, some tranquilizers such as phenothiazines and some chemotherapy drugs produce bad breath.

Those who take vitamins and different supplements in large doses are more likely to have bad breath. If you have trouble with mouth odor due to the medication you are using, talk to your physician to recommend you other treatment.

Medical conditions that lead to halitosis

It is true that it is not a serious medical problem, but we shouldn’t ignore bad breath because it can be a sign of various diseases.


There are cases when bad breath helps discover an early stage cancer. A director at the Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Center has tested a device created to discover lung cancer in 80 percent of patients by testing the patients’ breath. Halitosis is common in patients that follow chemo and radiation therapy because it affects the production of saliva and leads to dry mouth, which supports the bacteria multiplication and the appearance of mouth odor.[3]

Gum disease

Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, affects many people, especially those over the age of 65. Along with the symptoms of red and swollen gums or bleeding after brushing and flossing your teeth, it may also cause bad breath and bad taste in your mouth. As a study conducted in 2012 shows, periodontitis and gingivitis are directly linked to bad breath, because these conditions manifest by the presence of bacteria in the mouth. If we don’t successfully eliminate these bacteria, it can cause bad breath. So, treating gum disease help us get rid of bad breath and regain the health of our teeth.


Diabetes can affect one’s life in so many ways, including bad breath. Patients with diabetes experience problems in producing proper amounts of insulin, which is a hormone that plays a significant role in regulating the metabolism. When the body has inadequate levels of insulin, it leads to ketoacidosis, which is a condition that appears when the body burns fat. This condition causes the increase of ketones, which the body tries to eliminate through the lungs and urine. By eliminating them, our breath has an odor similar to fruits or acetone, which is a result of ketone production.


Depending on the type of allergy we suffer from, we may experience various unpleasant symptoms, including bad breath. Once we have problems such as scratchy throat, watery eyes or a stuffy nose, bad breath will bother us, too. Mucus and nasal drip create the perfect environment for bacteria to breed and bacteria breeding leads to bad breath. Eliminating the symptoms of allergies is not always helping you to get rid of halitosis, because it may cause dry mouth – well known as a risk factor for mouth odor. However, by improving the unpleasant symptoms of allergies will help you feel much better.  Kidney failure

Kidney failure is among the medical conditions bad breath helps you early reveal. Research believe that this is possible because kidney failure causes metabolic changes, which lead to dry mouth, affects the sense of taste and production of saliva. All these symptoms cause bad breath, and by increasing the saliva flow, it will eliminate the bad odor.

Liver disease

It is normal for patients with liver disease to experience bad breath. Moreover, bad breath is one of the first symptoms that occur in patients with liver disease and is a sign that we cannot ignore.

Helicobacter pylori

The infection with Helicobacter pylori causes different gastrointestinal problems, such as ulcers. As one study shows, patients with halitosis can present gastrointestinal symptoms. The good thing for these patients is that by treating the infection, it was possible to eliminate bad breath.

Chronic acid reflux

It is not easy for people with chronic acid reflux to overcome all the unpleasant symptoms. Bad breath is one of the symptoms, especially because patients with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) present an influx of acids and partially digested materials into the mouth cavity and esophagus. This makes difficult for them to keep their oral cavity clean, which lead to bad breath. Paying more attention to oral hygiene helps them prevent mouth odor.

Sjögren’s Syndrome 

Sometimes autoimmune disorders are responsible for the appearance of dry mouth, which leads to bad breath. One of these autoimmune diseases is Sjögren’s syndrome  – a medical condition that appears when the body attacks and inhibits the proper functioning of salivary glands. Even though a good oral hygiene helps to relieve bad breath, it is important to treat the autoimmune disorders that cause it.

Candida Albicans

Common among people with tongue piercings, Candida albicans make victims among those who use dental appliances, such as retainers. One of the symptoms produced by this yeast is mouth odor. Like in the situations mentioned above, treating the infections helps to get rid of halitosis.

Other causes

There are many things we can do for a fresh breath and a beautiful smile. We can start with a proper dental hygiene, by brushing and flossing our teeth regularly. When we ignore oral health, the plaque forms on our teeth and irritate our gums and even cause periodontitis. To clean our tongue is as important as it is to brush our teeth if we want to eliminate all the bacteria that our mouth houses. Nevertheless, a proper dental hygiene protects us from tooth decay and allows us to have healthy teeth even in older age.

Smokers have their own unpleasant experiences with mouth odors, rules that apply to orals users of tobacco, too. Not only that smoking affects our breath, but also stains our teeth, irritates our gums and even reduces our taste. In what concerns the smell of our breath, chewing gum afterward helps, although it is better to quit smoking for a fresh mouth odor.

Bad breath is common in people who want to lose weight quickly. Crash dieting and low-carbohydrate diets can cause bad breath because they determine the body to burn fat, which produces chemicals, called ketones that we can easily smell in our breath.

There are cases when bad breath exists only in people’s imagination. Such cases are caused by a psychological condition called halitophobia. People facing this problem have the feeling that their breath smells, even though this isn’t true. They make an obsession about brushing and flossing their teeth and exaggerate with chewing gum and using mouth fresheners. A good way to treat halitophobia is to take therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy.

How can someone diagnose bad breath?

Depending on how serious it is, the person in question can tell that she has bad breath or she needs another person’s help, preferably a dentist. After smelling your breath, your dentist will ask you questions about your problems, to know exactly what cause it. It may happen that he will recommend an appointment for the morning before you brush your teeth. Also, he may want to know how often you brush and floss your teeth, what are your health problems, what foods do you eat or what are your allergies. It is important to offer your dentist all the information he needs so that he can understand exactly what do need to do to treat it, especially since the only way to get rid of bad breath is to eliminate the cause.


Different detectors are precise in rating the specific levels of odors. Such detectors are altimeters that can detect low levels of sulfur. Gas chromatography helps to measure three volatile sulfur compounds – methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide and hydrogen sulfide. For measuring a specific enzyme produced in by halitosis people can use BANA test, while beta-galactosidase test measures the levels of the enzyme beta-galactosidase, connected with mouth odor.

When to visit a doctor concerning bad breath?

bad_breatth_doctor_visit_300x244In some of the times, people can overcome bad breath without visiting a doctor, other times it is vital to seek professional help. When proper oral hygiene isn’t enough to cure bad breath, it could be a complication of a medical condition you need to treat. You need to see a doctor if the following symptom accompanies bad breath: fever, white spots on the tonsils, sores in the mouth, pain or difficulty with chewing or swallowing, broken teeth or dental pain and persistent dry mouth.

If a baby or a young child has bad breath, he could suffer from an infection, and it is better not to ignore it. Also, it is a must to visit a doctor if bad breath appears after taking a new medication or a recent dental surgery.


When a plaque buildup is responsible for the appearance of mouth odor, the most effective treatment is a dental cleaning. This helps patients with a periodontal disease that experience bad breath, too. If a medical condition is causing bad breath, then an effective treatment consists of treating the cause. A doctor can recommend medication that can alleviate bad breath. For better results, dentists recommend to combine medications with proper dental care practices, which will remove bad breath, but also will maintain the health of your teeth.

Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly is an easy and efficient way to get rid of bad breath. Along with flossing, it helps to use inter-dental brushes, especially if you have implants, crowns or bridges. According to a study conducted on over 293 individuals, using over-the-counter mouthwashes can treat bad breath, if they contain antibacterial agents, such as chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium.

Sugary and acidic foods are one of the main foods that contain bacteria, which can lead to tooth decay. To prevent bad breath and tooth decay, dentists recommend avoiding consuming sugary foods and drinks. It helps to limit fizzy water and fruit juices that can be acidic and affect our teeth and breath. It is better to choose less acidic drinks, such as water, milk, tea or coffee without sugar. If you cannot resist drinking acidic beverages, make sure you brush your teeth at least an hour after eating or drinking anything, especially acidic foods, and drinks.

Don’t forget to clean the back of your tongue. You can use a special tongue scraper because it is more efficient than toothbrushes in controlling halitosis in adults.

Home remedies

People use home remedies for a broad range of problems, including for halitosis, because they are both practical and extremely handy.

Vitamin C water

vitamin_c_water_bad_breath_remedy_300x366Drinking vitamin C water will moist your mouth, but also kills the bacteria that cause bad breath. You need four strawberries, two large oranges and three kiwis and two liters of fresh water to prepare vitamin C water. Slice the fruits, pour in 2 liters of fresh water and then put the drink in the refrigerator and let it stay overnight. Drink it the next day, and it will create an acidic environment in which bacteria won’t survive. Also, it will offer you multiple therapeutic benefits, because it will is a powerful antioxidant drink that will protect you from free radicals.

Chew natural toothbrushes

We don’t always have the possibility to brush our teeth, but there is something you can do to keep our breath fresh – eat foods that act as a toothbrush. For instance, apples are the perfect natural tooth breath, because they are rich in fiber and increase the production of saliva. Veggies such as carrots and celery are excellent for cleaning the teeth and remove bacteria.

Another way of eliminating mouth odor is to chew cinnamon sticks, which will release essential oils that destroy bacteria and reduces bad breath. Eating berries is also helpful for people with bad breath because these fruits are rich in antioxidants, which fight the bacteria responsible for halitosis. For a quick way to freshen up your breath, you can use mint. This herb won’t destroy the bacteria, but it has a fresh and pleasant smell that will help.

Those who love drinking black tea are very lucky because it is a rich source of polyphenols that stop the growth of bacteria responsible for mouth odor. Black tea prevents tooth decay, too. Sugar-free gum or sugar-free candy can help as well because they increase the saliva flow. Nevertheless, drinking water never fails in preventing bad breath. It’s good always to have a bottle of water with you, especially after a meal, if you cannot brush your teeth immediately. Treating bad breath is not impossible. Most times it is enough to pay attention to dental hygiene and avoid spicy foods.