Two young men testing their breath

How to Tell If You Have Bad Breath

Nobody wants to have halitosis, a.k.a. bad breath. How to tell if your breath smells is trickier than it seems, unfortunately—but there are ways. Read on to learn how to know if you have bad breath so you can kick halitosis to the curb.

It can be tricky to figure out how to tell if your breath smells, but luckily, it's not impossible. If you think you might have bad breath, don't worry—there are plenty of ways to help prevent and treat it. Of course, the best way to avoid bad breath in the first place is to keep up a good dental hygiene routine—but sometimes bad breath has mysterious causes, like diet or health conditions, so don't be too hard on yourself.

Ask Someone You Trust

It may feel awkward to ask someone to look inside your mouth or smell your breath and give you feedback. Just make sure it's an appropriate person to ask, like a partner or family member. You can try asking someone you're close with to take a peek at the inside of your mouth to see if they notice a white coating on the back of your tongue, a common sign of bacteria that cause bad breath.

If you're too embarrassed to ask a friend, you can always ask your dentist. A dentist can assess the air from your mouth and nose to find the source of any odour. Whatever the outcome, a dentist will be able to help you treat or prevent bad breath from happening in the future.

Give Your Breath The Sniff Test

Need to check how your breath smells quickly? Try the sniff test—there are a couple of ways to do it. If you lick your wrist, let it dry for a moment, then take a whiff, you should be able to get an idea if your breath has an odour too. Another method is to floss towards the back of your mouth, then smell the floss. Or gently scrape your tongue using a tongue scraper or soft bristle toothbrush, then smell the scraper.

How To Smell Your Breath

There is a way you can taste your breath, which will give you the same information as smelling it. If you've eaten something with a potent odour such as garlic or fish, and you can still taste it, chances are others can smell it on your breath too. Or if you have a condition such as dry mouth, or if you're dehydrated, you may be able to taste your breath. Signs of dry mouth include thick, foamy saliva and a change in taste. A good rule of thumb is that if you have a bad taste in your mouth, it's very likely the way your breath smells, too. Just rinse your mouth out with water, which washes away any food debris and stimulates the cleansing flow of saliva, and carry out your usual dental hygiene routine after every meal.

What To Do About Bad Breath

If you're still worried about your breath, the best thing to do is what you should be doing anyway! Brush twice a day and floss or clean between your teeth at least once per day. Sometimes your toothpaste doesn't do enough to remove the bacteria affecting your breath, so rinse with mouthwash or use a water flosser to get rid of any lingering bacteria causing bad breath.

If you think your breath smells bad because of your diet, it can help to keep a food journal. Another option is to temporarily cut out certain foods from your diet to see if your breath improves. But if you have persistent bad breath no matter what you do, it's essential to talk to your doctor or dentist. A medical condition, such as a digestive problem, can cause bad breath, so bring it up with a medical professional as soon as possible.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.