Having trouble with bad breath?

Whether it’s you or someone you know, here are some causes and remedies for mouth odor.

Bad breath causes1


The breakdown of food particles stuck in your teeth can increase bacteria and cause a bad smell. Also, certain foods like onions and garlic can lead to bad breath. Once digested, they enter your bloodstream, get carried to your lungs and you breathe out the foul smell.

Poor dental hygiene

Brushing and flossing give you more than a nice smile—they clean away food particles that can cause mouth odor. If left in your teeth, these particles can eventually cause gum disease and more bad breath. Odor-causing bacteria can also collect on top of and underneath your tongue, so you should clean your tongue as well.

Dry mouth

Saliva helps cleanse your mouth of food particles that can cause bad breath over time. A condition called dry mouth, or xerostomia, happens when the salivary glands in your mouth don’t make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. With less salvia, your chances of bad breath increase.


Certain medications can give you dry mouth that leads to mouth odor. Also, some drugs can cause bad breath once they’re broken down in your body (just like onions and garlic).

Tobacco products

Smoking cigarettes causes its own bad mouth odor, and smokeless/chewing tobacco can do the same. Even worse, any type of tobacco use can lead to more serious oral health issues like gum disease, receding gums, bone loss and tooth loss.

Other causes

Poor digestion, constipation and bowel disorders can all cause an unpleasant mouth odor. Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, can produce a breath odor as well.

What to do for bad breath

For mild cases, you can improve bad breath by changing your oral hygiene and dietary habits. However, if you have chronic or severe bad breath, it may be a sign of other health issues. Schedule an appointment with your dentist for evaluation and treatment.

Home remedies for bad breath2

  • Brush your teeth after eating
  • Brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper once a day
  • Clean between your teeth once a day
  • Use antiseptic mouthwash once a day
  • Clean dentures and dental appliances once a day
  • Avoid dry mouth by chewing sugarless gum
  • Change your diet

Dental and medical treatments for bad breath3

  • Regular dental exams and cleanings at least every 6 months
  • Periodontal cleanings (also known as scaling and root planing)
  • Prescription antibacterial toothpaste and/or mouthwash

Humana can help with bad breath

If you need treatment for mouth odor, Humana can help. We offer a broad range of dental plans with varying levels of coverage, many with affordable monthly premiums. Some of our plans also feature no waiting periods, which means you could get covered in about 5 days. To see plans and prices in your area, check out our Humana dental insurance page.


  1. “Bad breath,” Mayo Clinic, last accessed November 19, 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bad-breath/symptoms-causes/syc-20350922, opens new window.
  2. “Bad breath.”
  3. “Bad breath.”

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