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Bad breath: Just embarrassing or something more?

Dragon breath. Yuck mouth. Whatever you call it, bad breath can be embarrassing, and it can happen to anyone. Most of the time, it doesn't last, and a simple brushing and flossing can make it disappear.

But sometimes, bad breath may be due to something a little more serious that needs to be addressed by a professional. Let's take a look at the causes of bad breath and what you can do about it.

Causes of Halitosis

Halitosis (bad breath) is caused by odor-producing bacteria that grow in your mouth. When you eat, the food interacts with bacteria in your mouth and your digestive system. In some cases, the interaction causes sulfur compounds to be released, which is the unpleasant odor you experience.

Brushing and flossing regularly is the best way to clear the bits of food left in your mouth and between your teeth. If you remove the food from your mouth with good dental habits, there is less leftover to interact with the bacteria and cause halitosis. Also there is less chance of it turning into plaque, which causes cavities.

So what are the causes of halitosis?

Foods that cause bad breath

You know that foods like onions and garlic can cause bad breath. Did you know that eating sugary or processed foods can also upset the balance of bacteria in your mouth and digestive system? Sugar is like a fuel for bacteria, so cut back on the sugar, and your breath may get better. Reduce the sodas, juices, and so-called energy or health drinks too, because they are filled with sugars.


This is one of the major causes of bad breath. In addition to the smell of tobacco, smoking dries out the mouth, further contributing to bad breath. Plus, it stains your teeth and makes you more vulnerable to a bunch of health problems1. Just quit. Seriously.

Dry mouth

Dry mouth is common and it often comes with bad breath. Avoid dry mouth by drinking plenty of water — not coffee, soft drinks, or alcohol, which are drying. For chronic dry mouth, you can try one of the over-the-counter remedies or talk to your dentist.

Mouth breathing

Breathing through your mouth instead of your nose can lead to dry mouth and possibly bad breath. A classic example is "morning breath." While you're sleeping, your mouth can become dry, especially if you sleep with your mouth open. Mouth breathing while you're awake is usually just a bad habit, but it can also be caused by problems with your nose or sinuses. Same goes for snoring. Talk to your dentist or doctor about what you can do to prevent both.

Medicine and bad breath

For some people, over-the-counter medicines like aspirin can cause halitosis. There are also a number of prescription drugs that can cause dry mouth and lead to bad breath. If you think one of your medications may be the cause, do not stop taking it until you speak with your doctor.

Gum disease

Bad gums can be caused by a number of things: sloppy tooth brushing, not flossing, and avoiding the dentist. Bad dental care can lead to mild gum disease (gingivitis) that causes sore, bleeding gums when you brush. If it advances to severe gum disease (periodontitis), your gums pull away from your teeth, creating craters where bacteria and pus grow. Now you've got a whole lot of bacteria to mess up your breath.

Other causes

Ongoing bad breath could be a sign of something more serious such as periodontitis, sinusitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, or diabetes. If your halitosis seems to be lasting, consider making an appointment with your dentist to get to the bottom of it.2

Much of the time, bad breath is a temporary condition that can be handled easily with good, consistent dental care. Not only will it help your breath smell fresher, it can also help prevent cavities and gum disease over the long-term. So brush, floss, eat a healthy diet, and quit smoking to keep your mouth healthy.

Want to learn more? See the article Bad breath? Mints can hide it, but they cannot fix it.

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