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7 Common Causes of Bad Breath

Written by Suzie Genella 

Not scientifically reviewed by Dr. Eeks

Breath odor – also known as halitosis or fetor oris – can affect anyone. In fact, studies by the American Dental Association have revealed that as many as half of all adults have had bad breath at least one point in their lives.

Bad breath can be caused by odors from the teeth, mouth, or a sign of an underlying health condition. Halitosis can be a chronic problem or a temporary issue. If bad breath is accompanied by an unpleasant taste in your mouth, it may be a sign of another health issue.

Have you ever wondered, “why does my breath smell bad even after brushing?” If so, read on to discover the seven most common causes.

1. Poor Dental Hygiene

When food particles get stuck in the teeth or in the mouth, bacteria work to break them down. These decaying food particles, combined with bacteria, release unpleasant odors. Flossing and brushing your teeth regularly will remove food particles before they begin to decay.

Brushing and flossing also remove plaque buildup on your teeth. Plaque is sticky and can cause an unpleasant odor. When plaque builds up on the teeth, it hardens into tartar and causes periodontal disease and cavities. If you use dentures and neglect to clean them thoroughly every night, they may also cause bad breath.

2. Strong-Smelling Food and Beverages

Strong-smelling food items like garlic and onions leave oils behind in the gut after they are digested. These oils then travel through the bloodstream and into your lungs.

Brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash can only cover these strong odors temporarily – the bad breath will only go away once the food has passed through your body.

Eating foods with pungent or intense aromas can cause bad breath for up to 72 hours after you eat them. Common strong-smelling foods are certain spices, cheese, pastrami, and orange juice. Strong-smelling beverages like coffee and wine can also cause bad breath.

3. Smoking

Smokers often acquire ‘smoker’s breath,’ which is the scent of stale cigarette smoke lingering in the mouth or lungs. Smoking cigarettes or cigars also leave chemicals in your mouth – these chemicals mix with your saliva and cause halitosis.

The chemicals in cigarettes also cause your mouth to dry out, which can make halitosis even more pronounced.

4. Dry Mouth

You will have a dry mouth if your mouth does not produce enough saliva. Producing enough saliva to keep your mouth and tongue moist reduces foul odors and keeps them clean.

If you snore, use certain medications (especially those for urinary conditions and high blood pressure), or have an issue with your salivary glands, you may experience bad breath because your mouth is too dry.

5. Periodontal Disease

Gum disease – or periodontal disease – occurs when plaque is not sufficiently removed from the teeth. Plaque hardens over time, becoming tartar. Tartar cannot be removed by brushing alone, and attempting to can irritate your gums further.

Tartar causes pockets or crevasses in between the teeth and gums. Plaque, decaying food particles and bacteria collect and thrive in these hard-to-reach areas of the mouth, causing bad breath.

6. Mouth, Sinus, and Throat Conditions

Bad breath can be caused by sinus infections, chronic bronchitis, an upper or lower respiratory tract infection, and postnasal drainage.

Tonsil stones – or tonsilloliths – can also collect bacteria and cause an unpleasant odor, leading to bad breath.

7. Underlying Diseases

Underlying medical conditions can also cause chronic bad breath. Kidney disease or liver failure can make a person’s breath smell like fish. At the same time, untreated diabetes can cause a fruity odor on the breath.

Other common diseases that cause bad breath include sleep apnea and gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD).

What’s Next?

To diagnose the problem, your dentist will inspect your mouth and ask you questions about your dental hygiene, the foods you eat, whether you snore, what medications you are on, what other health conditions you have, and when the halitosis started.

Suppose your dentist finds that your bad breath is due to decaying food particles or plaque. In that case, professional dental cleaning may eliminate the odor.

Suppose the unpleasant odor doesn’t seem to be coming from your mouth, tongue, or teeth. In that case, your dentist will recommend seeing a general practitioner to examine you for other possible diseases and health conditions.

To avoid bad breath, brush and floss your teeth thoroughly at least twice daily, and use an antimicrobial mouthwash to kill any lingering bacteria. Scheduling a checkup with your dentist every six months and Making sure you drink enough water can also help with bad breath.

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