dental instruments and oral health

What is Halitosis (Bad Breath)?

Halitosis, which is the medical term for bad breath, affects about 40 million Americans in the United States. Bad breath is characterized by an unpleasant and persistent odor in exhaled breath that is typically not serious. There are a variety of causes of bad breath that are linked to poor dental hygiene, eating habits, or even dehydration. The tongue harbors bacteria, and if it is not brushed daily, halitosis can develop. In some cases, if halitosis persists even after brushing, it may be a sign of an underlying infection or disease.

Most people with chronic halitosis do not notice they have the condition. Although, licking the forearm and smelling it will typically indicate bad breath.

Halitosis also occurs less in vegetarians than meat-eaters. This is because if the mouth is not cleaned properly, leftover meat particles will begin to decay and produce a foul smell.

Risk Factors

The cause of bad breath could be linked to lifestyle habits, diet, poor dental care, or an individual’s medical history. Common risk factors include:

Poor Oral Hygiene

Mouth fresheners, gums, and sprays could help temporarily if used in between flossing, brushing, and rinsing with chlorine dioxide mouthwash. Chewing parsley, basil, mint, or cilantro also helps control bad breath.


Coffee is a highly acidic substance that can lead to dry mouth, tooth discoloration, and halitosis. Brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash after drinking coffee reduces bad breath.


Alcoholic drinks and mouthwashes containing more than 25 percent alcohol can lead to halitosis.

Sugar and Processed Foods

Naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth feeds on sugars and results in a sour smell.

Smoking Tobacco

Smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products can cause bad breath and dry mouth, especially if oral health is neglected as well.

Certain Medications

Blood pressure medications, antihistamines, tetracyclines, sulfa, antidepressants, and decongestants can cause bad breath.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, is a non-life-threatening oral condition that occurs when the salivary glands in the mouth do not produce enough saliva to keep the mouth wet. Dry mouth is caused by insufficient fluid intake, prescription medications, and cancer treatments, which results in thick saliva.


Low-carb diets (ketosis), fasting, and high-protein diets can cause halitosis. This includes eating excessive amounts of eggs, dairy, and red meat or not eating enough carbohydrates.


Dehydration, hormonal changes in women, mucus build-up, and tonsil infections can cause bad breath.

Treatment Options

Halitosis typically goes away on its own with lifestyle changes and proper oral care techniques:

Routine Dental Exams and Preventive Treatment

The American Dental Association (ADA) suggests that adults visit a dentist for regular exams and teeth cleanings at least twice a year (every six months). During dental exams, a dentist or dental hygienist examines the mouth for cavities, decay, gum disease, and other oral health conditions.

Oral Care Habits

Brushing twice a day, flossing at least once a day, and rinsing the mouth with an alcohol-free mouthwash regularly kills bacteria and keeps the mouth healthy. Brushing the tongue with a scraper also helps prevent bad breath.

Other halitosis prevention techniques and treatment options include:

  • Chewing Sugarless Gum (stimulates bacteria-fighting saliva).
  • Avoiding Toothpicks (they damage the gums and teeth).
  • Using anti-VSC Oral Care Products (they do not contain alcohol or zinc).