Have you been cupping your hands around your mouth to get a whiff of your breath? Has a friend or family member tactfully pulled you aside to mention that there’s a not-so-pleasant odor wafting from your mouth? Have people been wincing and flinching when you talk to them in close proximity? Are you wondering which of the common causes of bad breath are to blame?
Bad breath is an embarrassing problem. It can affect people of all ages, and it has a wide range of potential causes—some minor and easy to remedy, and others that are more serious. As with most health issues, diagnosing the cause is the necessary first step in treating the problem.
So, here’s a quick look at some of the most common causes of bad breath.
Bad Breath Causes
- Poor dental hygiene or oral health – These are some of the most common causes of bad breath, especially if you have a bite problem that interferes with proper oral hygiene or if you develop gum disease. You’ve heard it a million times: Floss, brush your teeth, and use mouthwash! Keep up with your regularly scheduled dental cleanings and checkups! And see an orthodontist about that bite problem!
- Trapped food – If you’ve had some food stuck in your teeth, braces, or retainer for a while, it will break down and accumulate bacteria, giving off odors that may be detectable to other people. If your bad breath is a new, sudden problem, this could be the explanation. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest to deal with. Break out the floss and toothbrush. Also, brush up on how to clean braces or how to care for a fixed retainer if you wear either.
- An unclean removable retainer – Speaking of retainers, removable ones can get pretty gross if you don’t clean them properly. And this can lead to a foul smell emanating from your mouth (not to mention an unpleasant taste). Here’s some information about caring for a removable retainer.
- Strong-smelling foods – Food doesn’t have to get stuck in your teeth to cause bad breath. Foods with strong odors—especially those containing pungent oils—can leave their mark on your breath for hours, or even up to a few days. Garlic, onion, and potent herbs and spices are some common culprits. There’s not much you can do about it other than mask the smell with something like mouthwash or strong mints or gum (no gum if you have braces, though!).
- Certain health conditions – Illnesses like colds, strep throat, sinus infections, and other infections affecting the respiratory tract can lead to bad breath. Often, it’s due to mucus in the nose or throat. Heartburn and acid reflux are conditions where the odor of digestive acid may be detectable on the breath. Rarer, more serious diseases can also sometimes cause bad breath, such as GERD, diabetes, lung infections, kidney failure, some cancers, and bulimia. There’s also halitosis, the name for the medical condition of having chronic bad breath.
- Dry mouth – This condition is one of the common causes of bad breath. Dead skin cells accumulate on your teeth, gums, and tongue, potentially giving off an unpleasant smell. This is why you have “morning breath” after reduced salivation while you sleep. But dry mouth is also a common side effect of many medications, and other health conditions can trigger it too. And some people are just prone to dry mouth, especially in middle age or the senior years. Drink lots of water, and rinse out your mouth occasionally (rinsing with a solution of watered-down coconut oil works well for rehydrating the mouth).
- Smoking – Smoking stinks, and so does your breath if you’re a smoker! Not only does the residue from smoking contribute to bad breath, but smoking also significantly dries out your mouth (see previous entry). There are dozens of great reasons to quit, so do it already!