Bad Breath

I’m sure everyone can think of someone they know with bad breath. Interacting with someone with offensive breath can literally take your breath away. The Irony! The truth is, bad breath or Halitosis can happen to anyone.

In the Uk, It is estimated that 1 in 4 people suffer with Halitosis on a regular basis. In the US it is estimated to affect over 50 million people. 

It can have unpleasant effects and essentially can be a social WMD (weapon of mass destruction) in your workplace, in love life and relationships, and in general day to day life. 

Tobacco use, Snoring or even taking oral contraception, can all contribute to Halitosis. Sometimes bad breath can even be a sign of an underlying medical or dental condition. 

The breath of fresh air is the good news that Halitosis can be prevented and treated!

How can I tell if I have breath?

It is usually very tricky to work out how bad your breath does or does not smell. An easy indicator is to lick the back of your wrist then immediately smell it. Another test is to use some floss in between your back teeth, then smell the floss. On your Tongue, there are projections or taste buds which harbour bacteria. Specific bacteria produce volatile sulphur compounds which have a distinctive smell. Using a piece of gauze, gently rub the surface of your tongue then smell the gauze.

If you have tried all of the above and the smell is offensive to you, chances are your breath may smell..

But What causes bad breath?

FOOD – strongly flavoured foods with spices, onions and garlic and even coffee can exacerbate bad breath. As these foods are high in sulphur compounds. Eating sugary foods has also been linked to bad breath.

POOR DENTAL HYGIENE – if you don’t floss and brush on a daily basis, food particles can get trapped in between your teeth and under your gums. Persistent bad breath is caused by bacteria coating the tongue, teeth or gums and food getting trapped in between teeth.

SMOKING – tobacco smoking increases your chance of developing gum disease. Bad breath caused by Gum disease also has a unique smell. This is due to the specific type of bacteria that is found under your gums.

Medical conditions – Tonsillitis, Sinus problems, Respiratory tract infections like pneumonia or bronchitis, Asthma,  Acid reflux disease and oral conditions like mouth infections, gum disease and dental decay can also cause bad breath.

What can differing scents of your breath mean?

Acidic smellA lung problem like asthma or cystic fibrosis
Scent of ammoniaCan indicate kidney problems
Sweet musty odorLiver Cirrhosis
Fishy smellCan indicate increased urea levels  and Kidney disease
Fruity smell (ketone breath)Uncontrolled diabetes
Cheesy smellA nasal origin
A faecal odorMay point to a bowel obstruction

DRY MOUTH – saliva in your mouth keeps your mouth hydrated but it also has a cleansing effect that mechanically moves particles that cause bad breath. People who breathe through their mouths or snore when they sleep can suffer from a dryer mouth on waking, and this can cause the characteristic morning breath. In addition, a dry mouth may prevent the clearance of harmful bacteria, causing a sulfuric odor.

MEDICATIONS – certain medications can be broken down in the body to release chemicals that cause bad breath. They can also cause a dryer mouth as a side effect.  Commonly prescribed medications that treat Depression, Anxiety, Pain, Allergies, Obesity, Nasal congestion, Acne and Epilepsy can all contribute to a dry mouth, hypertension, asthma and Parkinson’s disease. 

FASTING or DIETING – and skipping meals can also affect the salivary flow rate which again can cause bacteria to accumulate. 

SO How can I prevent bad breath


Avoid regularly eating strongly flavored foods like garlic and onions which contain sulphur compounds. 

After eating garlic, try chewing on parsley, celery  or even apples. These food contain certain enzymes which can help oxidise the sulphides in garlic. 

It is  also worth remembering that Refined and processed sugar feed and encourage the growth of bacteria responsible for bad breath, so try to keep these to a minimum

Chewing fennel seeds , which are antimicrobial, can neutralise odors.  

Drinking green tea and black has also been scientifically proven to eliminate the effects of bad breath. Green tea is very high in antioxidants called Polyphenols. Theses polyphenols can help cover up the odor-causing chemicals in garlic.


Water helps in washing away harmful bacteria on your teeth. Aim to consume enough water throughout the day which not only prevents dehydration but will also keep your oral cavity well lubricated.

Chewing gum for 20 minutes immediately after meals can stimulate a healthy salivary flow rate and ensure your mouth is kept clean. 

Tip: Be sure that you chew sugar-free gum, but also be careful not to use chewing gum as a means to mask existing bad breath. 

Oral Hygiene: brush teeth and gums for 2 1/2 mins with a fluoride toothpaste. And remember to regularly change your toothbrush, every 300 uses.

Try to avoid alcohol-based mouthwashes because these can make the mouth dry, concealing odours instead of killing bacteria.

Using a battery operated or electric toothbrush can sometimes clean teeth more effectively than a manual toothbrush.

Flossing or interdental brushes at least once a day – helps to control bad breath by removing the plaque from in between the teeth.

Tongue Cleaning – Millions of microorganisms can survive and multiply on the tongue. Investing in a good quality tongue scraper or using the tongue cleaner at the back of your manual toothbrush head brush is like exfoliating your tongue which reduces amounts of bacteria in your mouth. The whole of your tongue should be cleaned, the back, the sides included. Tongue cleaning has also been proven to enhance taste. 

See your Dentist: ask your dentist for her/his opinion. Regular dental checks and maintenance cleaning is recommended if your breath is as a result of gum disease. Scheduling a session to deep clean under your gums would reduce the amount of bacteria and plaque in the mouth and less bacteria means less odour. If your dentist cannot find the cause of your bad breath it can be a sign of an underlying medical condition that should be investigated by your doctor.

What to do if you think you have bad breath?

If you are worried that you may suffer from bad breath sometimes it can be uncomfortable to ask a partner, friend or family member.  

Masking it with chewing gum, mouthwash or even breath mints may not be an ideal long term solution.

The most important step is to be evaluated by your dentist who is best equipped to provide you with solutions.

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