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What causes bad breath?

There are many causes for breath odor.

If you don't brush and floss every day, food stays in your mouth and collects bacteria, which can cause bad breath. Food collected between the teeth, on the tongue and around the gums can also rot, leaving an unpleasant odor.

What you eat is also a factor. Foods like garlic and onions contribute to breath odor, and once the food is absorbed into the bloodstream, it's transferred to the lungs where it's expelled. Brushing, flossing and mouthwash will only mask the odor temporarily; odors continue until the body eliminates the food. Dieters can develop unpleasant breath from infrequent eating.

Bad breath can also be caused by dry mouth (known as xerostomia), which occurs when the flow of saliva decreases. Saliva cleanses the mouth and removes particles that may cause odor. Dry mouth is caused by various medications, salivary gland problems or continuously breathing through the mouth. If you suffer from dry mouth, your dentist may prescribe an artificial saliva, or suggest using sugarless candy and increasing your fluid intake.

Tobacco products are another cause of bad breath. If you use tobacco, ask your dentist for assistance in helping you quit.

Bad breath could also signal a medical disorder. Local infections in the respiratory tract, chronic sinusitis, postnasal drip, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, gastrointestinal disturbance, and liver or kidney ailment can cause breath odor. If your dentist determines that your mouth is healthy, you may be referred to a physician to determine the cause of bad breath.

Maintaining good oral health is essential to reducing bad breath, so be sure you schedule regular dental visits for a dental cleaning and checkup. Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove food debris and plaque, and brush your tongue, too. Once a day, use floss or an interdental cleaner to clean between teeth.

Talk to your dentist if you're concerned about bad breath. He or she can help identify the cause and, if it's due to an oral condition, develop a treatment plan to help eliminate it.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

3/3/2008

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