What's causing your bad breath? It may be hard to self-diagnose, but here are 6 common culprits

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There are a few common culprits behind bad breath, but it's best to visit a dentist to get to the bottom of chronic halitosis.
There are a few common culprits behind bad breath, but it's best to visit a dentist to get to the bottom of chronic halitosis.
Getty Images/Moyo Studio
  • Your mouth is a whole world in itself, which is why dentists often stress the need to maintain good oral hygiene.
  • Data shows that around 1 in 4 people globally experience bad breath.
  • There are certain common triggers for bad breath, but the best way to determine the cause is to visit a dentist.

Bad breath can be a nuisance, but for some people, chronic bad breath, also known as halitosis, can be a source of anxiety and impact their quality of life. 

According to Medical News Today, bad breath affects an estimated 1 in 4 people globally. 

While there are several possible causes of halitosis, the main culprit is usually poor oral hygiene or diet. We take a look at six possible reasons behind that breath odour.

1. Spicy, fragrant foods

Garlic, raw onions and spices are usually the common offenders of short-term bad breath.

Have you ever tried getting rid of 'garlic breath' by brushing your teeth but had no luck? That’s because your stomach absorbs oils from this food during digestion, which then pass into your bloodstream and travel to your lungs, explains Healthline.

As a result, this causes an odour that others can notice in your breath for up to 72 hours or three days. 

READ MORE | Why you should avoid mouthwashes that kill 99% bacteria – plus 3 top tips for healthy teeth and gums

2. Smoking

Smoking tobacco increases the chances of having gum disease, another source of bad breath, notes the Mayo Clinic.

It also dries out your mouth, worsening halitosis. This is because saliva helps keep your mouth clean and reduces odour by washing away harmful oral bacteria and food particles. One study also found that long-term smoking negatively affects the quality of saliva. 

3. Drinking coffee

Who knew your daily cuppa Joe could be the reason behind your bad breath? Because coffee beans are roasted to bring out the aroma and flavour, the process causes sulphur-containing aroma compounds to form, explains Washington Dental Associates.

Unfortunately, these sulfuric compounds and the acid in coffee can cause bad breath.

Additionally, like smoking, drinking coffee can also cause dry mouth, leading to bad breath.

4. Drinking alcohol

When you drink too much alcohol, your body goes into protective mode and treats the substance as a toxin, converting it to less harmful chemicals. About 90% of the alcohol you consume is converted to acetic acid, which can lead to bad breath following an alcohol binge, explains the Lake Pointe Dental Group. And the more often you drink, the longer halitosis will stick around, it adds.

5. Not brushing, flossing 

If you neglect your oral health, including brushing your teeth (or brushing the correct way) and flossing regularly, harmful bacteria will invade your mouth and multiply out of control, says the Cleveland Clinic.

READ MORE | How to floss

As a result, this can lead to issues such as halitosis, cavities and gum disease. Brushing helps to remove plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that builds up on your teeth and causes odour. Flossing removes food particles and plaque in places your toothbrush can't reach, such as between your teeth.

6. Problems with your teeth or gums

According to the National Health Service (NHS), problems with your teeth or gums, such as gum disease, holes in your teeth, or an infection, can all contribute to bad breath. This stresses the importance of visiting the dentist every few months for a dental cleaning.

Gum disease happens when you don’t remove plaque promptly from teeth, and over time, plaque hardens into tartar, Healthline explains. Tartar can’t be removed by brushing, and it may cause pockets, or small openings, to form in the area between your teeth and gums. This allows food, bacteria and dental plaque to collect in these pockets, causing a strong odour.

Other causes

Bad breath can also occur due to several health conditions, such as heartburn, diabetes or disease in another part of your body, says the Cleveland Clinic. Infections in your nose, throat or lungs can also cause strong breath odours. 

Certain medicines can also be behind bad breath, especially when taken long-term, explains the Lake Pointe Dental Group. Some of these include antidepressants, antihistamines and migraine medications.

READ MORE | Is brushing your teeth for two minutes enough? Here’s what the evidence says

Here are some oral hygiene basics to help you banish bad breath: 

  • Brush your teeth in circular motions at least twice a day for two minutes.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste as this helps to protect teeth against decay.
  • Gently clean your tongue daily using a tongue cleaner or scraper.
  • Floss at least once a day.
  • Visit your dentist every six months for a routine cleaning and check-up.

Ultimately, treatment for halitosis will depend on the root cause of the issue. For example, a dental cleaning will likely solve the problem if your breath odour is due to poor oral health or plaque buildup.

If you are concerned about bad breath that doesn’t go away, it is best to schedule an appointment with your dentist. 

September is national Oral Health Month. Oral diseases affect 3.5 billion people worldwide, most of which are largely preventable.


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