Halitosis: The Cause of Bad Breath


Young Woman with a Toothbrush

Bad Morning Breath

Ever notice how unpleasant your mouth tastes when you wake up in the morning? This is commonly referred to as “morning breath,” and it’s an ordinary condition that 99 percent of people experience on a daily basis. So why do we get it? 

Morning breath occurs because our bodies stop producing saliva when we sleep. When this happens, there is nothing to cleanse the mouth of bacteria and germs, so your breath develops a buildup of foul-smelling odors. And unfortunately, even if you brush and floss the night before, there’s no guarantee that you’ll completely eliminate bad morning breath.

Medically called halitosis or oral malodor, researchers estimate that 80 million Americans have chronic bad breath, and some people are not always aware they have it.

How do you know if you have bad breath?

Although it may seem gross, ask a trusted friend or a significant other to smell your breath. For some people this method is a little embarrassing, but it’s a great test if you suspect you have bad breath. A quick whiff of your floss can also give you a hint of how bad your breath is, but don’t try this if you have a weak stomach or you’re sensitive to odors. Similarly, you can also smell your breath by covering your mouth and breathing into your palm.

Causes of Smelly Breath 

Many factors can contribute to halitosis, but poor oral hygiene is the most common reason for having smelly dragon breath. When you don’t brush your teeth, food particles in your mouth will rot and cause your breath to have a less than favorable stench. If you don’t clean dentures or plastic orthodontic retainers often, then these can build up with bacteria and lead to chronic bad breath as well. 

Other causes of oral malodor include: 

  • Consuming pungent foods (e.g. garlic and onions) and drinks (e.g. coffee)
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Dental problems such as dental caries (cavities) or periodontal (gum) disease
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)
  • Certain medications and antidepressants
  • Extreme fasting and low-carb diets
  • Existing medical conditions such as diabetes, sinus infections, pneumonia, and bronchitis 

Preventing Stinky Breath

While chronic bad breath is embarrassing, it’s a common condition that can easily be remedied. Here are five ways to improve your breath:

1. Maintain Adequate Oral Care 

Make sure you brush your teeth and tongue twice a day with toothpaste that contains antibacterial agents to kill and eliminate bacteria-causing plaque. You should also floss daily and visit the dentist twice a year for cleanings. If oral malodor symptoms persist even with proper dental hygiene, make sure you talk to your doctor, as this could be a sign of other medical problems.

For best results, get in the habit of brushing after you eat to ensure food particles and bacteria don’t foul your breath. And don’t forget to replace your toothbrush every two or three months, especially after being sick.

2. Be Careful of What You EatGarlic and Onions

Eating highly flavorful foods can leave a taste in your mouth that lingers for hours, causing your breath to become very unpleasant. To ensure fresher breath throughout the day, avoid strong foods and drinks that are difficult to get off your tongue—e.g. spicy foods, cheese, sodas, and coffee. 

3. Use Breath Fresheners & Antibacterial Mouthwash

If you suspect that your breath is foul, try using antibacterial mouthwash and sugar-free xylitol chewing gum to freshen your breath. These breath fresheners don’t just mask the odors from halitosis but they actually eliminate them. Also, don’t rely on sugary mints—while these are fine for a quick fix, they can sometimes make your breath worse. 

4. Stay Hydrated

Among its many benefits, saliva acts as the body’s flush system to remove germs that build up in the mouth, and drinking more fluids emulates this process. If you can’t brush your teeth after you eat, drink plenty of water to cleanse the mouth of bacteria and food particles that cause stinky breath. You can also drink milk, which deodorizes offensive odors.

5. Avoid Alcohol & Tobacco Products

Smoking and chewing tobacco are known for causing horrible breath, not to mention a slew of other oral health problems. Additionally, drinking alcohol in excess can cause dry mouth and also lead to foul-smelling breath.