Bad breath is caused by odor-producing bacteria that build up in your mouth and release foul smells as they digest food. The odors are intensified by poor dental hygiene, a dry mouth (xerostomia), eating foods with strong odors like garlic or onions and by certain health conditions and diseases. Constant bad breath may also be a warning sign of other medical problems, such as gastrointestinal tract infections; sinus or throat infections; bronchitis; diabetes; liver or kidney disease; and pulmonary or respiratory disorders.
Brushing your teeth for two to three minutes twice a day, flossing and using an antiseptic mouthwash daily, can help eliminate the majority of bad-breath causes. Chewing sugar-free gum can stimulate saliva production, which washes away odor-producing bacteria. Using a tongue scraper to remove bacterial deposits and food debris can improve breath, too.
Drinking plenty of water can help prevent bad odors because it helps to dilute and wash away the bacteria and food particles that cause bad breath. Limiting caffeine-containing beverages, such as coffee and cola, and alcohol can also help avoid bad breath because they reduce the production of saliva.
Garlic, onions and spices can contribute to bad breath because they are not washed away as you eat them and because the odors from these foods are carried through the bloodstream to the lungs. Smoking or chewing tobacco products can also give your breath a smoky odor.
A swollen and red throat or tonsils; a yeast infection; or a respiratory illness, such as bronchitis or pneumonia can contribute to bad breath. If you have a persistent odor in your mouth, it is worth seeing a dentist, who can check for more serious causes of bad breath and refer you to a doctor if necessary.
In some cases, bad breath is simply imagined (pseudohalitosis). This condition occurs in people who tend to exaggerate normal body sensations or in those who have a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia. Other conditions that can cause a false sense of halitosis include eating onions or garlic, smoking or drinking a pungent beverage. In these cases, a visit to the dentist or a physician is a good idea. A clean, healthy mouth is essential for healthy skin, a strong immune system and good overall health. Visit your family dentist for regular cleanings and checkups, and see a specialist in oral disease prevention if you have any concerns about your teeth or gums. For the latest news on research advancements, health tips and more, follow us on Facebook. You can also sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest information straight in your inbox!