What Causes Halitosis? The Common and Uncommon Culprits of Halitosis Revealed!

What causes halitosis? The answer may not be what you expect. Halitosis is not only embarrassing and socially inhibiting, but it can also indicate a mild to serious health issue. Halitosis is a common condition that affects 25 percent of the population. Defined as breath that has an unpleasant odor, halitosis can be caused by tobacco use, food, drink, bacterial imbalance in the mouth or systemic health problems. The best treatment can be determined after visiting your dental health care provider.

Most people associate halitosis with issues in the mouth only. According to the International Journal of Oral Science, oral conditions account for 85 percent of all halitosis. Poor oral hygiene allows food and bacteria to accumulate between the teeth, along the gumline and on the surface of the tongue. Bacteria already present in the mouth - break down the food particles and this results in the unpleasant odor. Saliva is also very important to fight halitosis. It helps to wash these particles out of the oral cavity. Therefore, individuals who suffer from dry mouth, even if they practice good oral hygiene, have difficulty with bad breath as well. Unfortunately, good oral hygiene   doesn't always solve the problem. Usually a visit to the dentist is all you need to treat bad breath; however, occasionally you may be referred to your doctor for followup or treatment.

A visit with your dentist or dental hygienist will entail an examination that includes a check for cavities, dry mouth and periodontal disease. A thorough medical history will be taken to identify health issues or prescription medicines that may be contributing to halitosis. According the American Dental Association, knowing the cause of your halitosis is the first crucial step to overcoming this common problem. Bad breath is most commonly caused by bacterial build up on the teeth or tongue. Bacteria residue that accumulates toward the back of the tongue, secrete volatile sulphur compounds (VSC) and may be difficult to mechanically remove. The Journal of Oral Science reports that certain mouth rinses, especially those containing zinc, help to reduce VSC, which can help with halitosis.

Removing this bacteria by proper oral hygiene is crucial for avoiding malodor. Your dentist or dental hygienist can access your individual issues and instruct you on the best ways to avoid the bacterial overgrowth.

Consider the following to reduce halitosis:

  • Proper toothbrushing
  • Use of interproximal cleaners, such as floss or interdental cleaning devices
  • Cleaning the tongue
  • Periodontal treatment
  • Smoking or tobacco cessation
  • Mouthrinses that claim to reduce halitosis
  • Chewing sugarfree gum

In rare instances, halitosis can be caused by a medical condition. Bad breath can occur from infections in the nose, sinuses, throat or lungs. People who suffer from chronic sinusitis, postnasal drip or digestive issues may battle halitosis as well. A fruity odor could indicate Type I diabetes in children and Type II diabetes in adults. Dry mouth or xerostomia can be caused by certain systemic and autoimmune diseases as well as the use of some prescription drugs. If the malodor is caused by a medical condition or infection in the oral cavity or body, it can be resolved with proper medical or dental treatment.

Dry mouth can be controlled by use of:

  • Sugar free mints or gum
  • Oral probiotics
  • Mouth moistening products available in toothpastes , rinses and lozenges
  • Fluoride
  • Regular dental care

Knowing what causes halitosis is the first step to eliminating this common and embarrassing problem. With the help of your health care provider, you can identify the culprits and freshen your breath. Recognizing the causes of halitosis will help reduce the risk and give you the tools needed to minimize odor and gain confidence.

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.

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Foul-smelling breath, usually caused by the breakdown of food. Other culprits include poor dental hygiene, dry mouth, disease, infection, tobacco use and severe dieting.


Most bad breath starts in your mouth, and there are many possible causes that include:

  • Food particles from stinky foods like garlic and onions
  • Smoking
  • Respiratory Infections
  • Acid Reflux
  • Poor Oral Hygiene