bad breath causes

7 Common Causes of Bad Breath and How to Fix Them

June 9, 2021

Originally publish May 2017. Updated June 2021.

There’s nothing quite as embarrassing as realizing that you have bad breath. Whether you had just a bit too much garlic for lunch or you ran out the door without brushing your teeth, bad breath is a cloud that hangs over you for the whole day.

And as we start to head into the waning days of mask-wearing, conversing with friends and coworkers can be nerve-wracking if you’re also worried about whether they can smell your coffee breath. Even those of us who are diligent about our oral hygiene can suffer from halitosis. In fact, around 80 million people suffer from chronic bad breath with little to no relief.

But exactly what causes bad breath is more complicated than you might think. Read on to discover 7 reasons why you might be suffering from halitosis and how you can have minty fresh breath in no time.

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What Causes Bad Breath

There are many reasons you may struggle with halitosis, but some of the most common bad breath causes include:

  • Poor dental hygiene habits: Whether you’ve been skipping the flossing (we’re all guilty of it once in our lives) or it’s been awhile since you’ve popped in for a cleaning, poor oral care habits can lead to bad breath.
  • Consuming food and beverages such as garlic and onions: While delicious additions to tacos and pasta, garlic and onions are also rich in sulfur compounds that give these foods their distinctive flavors. But when cut, mashed, or, you guessed it, chewed, they release gasses that when combined with bacteria in the mouth, can cause bad breath hours after a meal.
  • Low-carb diets: Diets low in carbohydrates (i.e. Atkins, Keto) can often result in bad breath due to a release of chemicals that happens as the body buns fat. These are called ‘ketones’ and occur when the body enters the fat-burning stage of ketosis.
  • Dry mouth: Saliva contains antimicrobial properties that help eliminate the bacteria that causes bad breath. Without this natural production of saliva, your breath can smell stale and foul.
  • Dehydration: Like dry mouth, dehydration leads to a decrease in saliva production. This causes bacteria in the mouth to grow, causing bad breath.
  • Not removing dentures at night and cleaning them properly: Just like flossing, taking proper care of your dentures can help prevent bad breath. If food particles get stuck and are left over night, they can begin to breakdown and the resulting in halitosis.
  • Acid reflux: If you suffer from heartburn or GERD, it’s likely you’ve experienced bad breath as an unwelcome symptom. That’s because when food doesn’t move out of the body effectively, it can start to decay in the stomach and contribute to bad breath.
  • Mouth, nose, and throat infections: If you have a cold or sinusitis that causes postnasal drip, bad breath may not be far behind. The bacteria from these infections feeds on the mucus your body produces when it mounts an immune response, leading to bad breath.
  • Tonsil stones: Ever taken a peek at the back of your throat and noticed little white spots? Well, you might have tonsil stones. While rare, tonsil stones develop when food and bacteria get trapped in the little crevices surrounding the tonsils. When this happens, the material hardens and can sometimes emit a foul odor.
  • Tobacco use resulting in “smokers’ breath”: We all know that tobacco is a “no-go” when it comes to maintaining a healthy smile. And the same is true for your breath. Not only do tobacco products leave their own odor in their wake, but smoking can lead to dry mouth and gum disease, both of which cause halitosis.

How to Get Rid of Bad Breath

If you’re embarrassed by bad breath, there are plenty of ways to remedy the situation. Here are a few simple ways to turn that bad breath into minty freshness:

  • Brush and floss twice a day
  • Try a warm saltwater rinse to eliminate unwanted bacteria
  • Use an antibacterial toothpaste that gets rid of bacteria and plaque
  • Replace your toothbrush once every two months
  • Visit your dentist for bi-annual checkups and cleanings every six months
  • Scrape your tongue with your toothbrush every morning and night
  • Chew fresh mint, cilantro, or parsley
  • Brush after every meal
  • Avoid garlic and onions whenever possible
  • Stop smoking
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and dry mouth

Bad breath is sometimes a sign of an underlying condition. If you’ve tried every fix on this list and still struggle with halitosis, schedule a check-up with your dentist to find out the next steps you should take to get your bad breath under control.

Bad breath got you down? Use our Find a Dentist tool and you’ll be smelling minty fresh in no time.

Find a Dentist