Bad breath: causes, home remedies and prevention of Halitosis

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Bad breath is the common name for the medical condition known as halitosis. Many different things can cause halitosis — from not brushing your teeth to certain medical conditions. Sometimes, a person’s bad breath can blow you away — and he or she may not realize there’s a problem. There are tactful (nice) ways of letting someone know about bad breath. You could offer mints or sugarless gum without having to say anything.

If you need to tell a friend he or she has bad breath, you could say that you understand foods can cause bad breath because you’ve had it before yourself. By letting someone know that bad breath isn’t something unusual, you’ll make your friend feel more comfortable and less embarrassed about accepting your piece of chewing gum. Although everyone gets bad breath sometimes, if you have bad breath a lot, you may need to visit your dentist or doctor.


Some people are convinced that they have bad breath when they do not. This psychological condition is known as halitophobia. People with halitophobia are paranoid about the smell of their breath and often misinterpret other people’s actions and comments, thinking that they are suggesting they have bad breath. They become fixated with cleaning their teeth, chewing gum and using mouth fresheners.

What causes bad breath? 

There are a number of reasons you might have dragon breath. While many causes are harmless, bad breath can sometimes be a sign of something more serious.


Bad breath can happen anytime thanks to the hundreds of types of bad breath-causing bacteria that naturally lives in your mouth. Your mouth also acts like a natural hothouse that allows these bacteria to grow. When you eat, bacteria feed on the food left in your mouth and leaves a foul-smelling waste product behind.

Morning bad breath

Most people have bad breath when they wake up in the morning. This is normal and occurs because the mouth dries up overnight. This slows down the flow of saliva that normally washes away food particles. Bacteria quickly break down any bits of food left in the mouth, and an unpleasant, stale smell is released. The flow of saliva usually increases once you start eating.

Certain foods 

The things you eat are linked to your oral health, including your breath. Items such as garlic and onions, or any food, are absorbed into the bloodstream. Until that food leaves the body, it may affect your breath.

Poor oral health care 

Without correct and regular brushing and flossing, and routine dental exams, food stays in the mouth. This is a breeding ground for bacteria. Food that collects on the teeth, gums, and tongue may rot. This causes an unpleasant odor and taste in the mouth.

Incorrect cleaning of dentures 

Dentures that are not cleaned correctly may be collecting bacteria, fungi, and remaining food particles. All of these cause bad breath.


Gum (periodontal) disease 

One of the main symptoms of this gum disease is bad-smelling breath and an unpleasant taste in the mouth. This condition needs care right away by an oral dentist.

Dry mouth (xerostomia)

This condition is often a key part of halitosis. When your mouth doesn’t make enough saliva, your mouth can’t clean itself. It can’t remove debris and particles left behind by food. Dry mouth may be caused by certain medicines. It may also be caused by a salivary gland problem or by always breathing through the mouth instead of the nose.

Tobacco products 

Tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and snuff stain the teeth and put the body at risk for many diseases. But they also help cause bad breath. Tobacco users also are at higher risk for:

  • Gum disease
  • Loss of ability to taste
  • Irritated gums
  • Oral cancer

Medical Conditions 

Mouth infections can cause bad breath. However, if your dentist has ruled out other causes and you brush and floss every day, your bad breath could be the result of another problem, such as a sinus condition, gastric reflux, diabetes, liver or kidney disease. In this case, see your doctor.

Halitosis treatment

Brush AND floss

When determining how to get rid of bad breath, one of the easiest ways is to ensure that you have great dental hygiene. Brush and floss every day (and twice a day if possible) to reduce odorous bacteria in the mouth. Though skipping flossing may be tempting, it removes bits of food caught between teeth, which can cause bacterial growth (and halitosis) when ignored. And here are some more reasons to floss every day. You should also replace your toothbrush every two to three months so the bristles do not weaken over time and clean your teeth less effectively. If your halitosis still persists, you’ll need to take further steps to treat it.

Clean your tongue 

The tongue can be a breeding ground for smelly bacteria in your mouth, but it’s often overlooked when people brush. After brushing your teeth, use your toothbrush to brush your tongue as well. Or, invest in a tongue scraper as one of the more high-tech bad breath remedies. Now, find out what your tongue can reveal about your health.


Here’s how to get rid of bad breath in ten seconds or less: Take a swig of water. A common cause of halitosis is a dry mouth. The slowing of saliva production encourages the growth of bacteria that causes your breath to smell, which can help explain why you have horrible breath in the morning. Alleviate dry mouth by hydrating often, especially when you wake up, or during and after exercising. These are times dry mouth is most likely to occur.

Watch what you eat 

Some foods are known to cause bad breath, so one of the simplest bad breath remedies is to simply not eat them. Avoid foods that are highly acidic or high in fructose, as both encourage bacteria production. For a quick and easy snack that will help curb bad breath, reach for an apple or some yogurt. Apples are high in fiber and contain the heteropolysaccharide pectin, which stimulates saliva production, while the active cultures in yogurt will reduce bacteria in the mouth.

Use mouthwashes (but only some) 

Though mouthwash is purported to freshen breath, most will only mask unpleasant smells on a temporary basis. If you’re going to use mouthwash as a solution for bad breath, select a product that fights plaque to prevent bacterial growth, which will actually help treat halitosis as opposed to just covering it up. For an easy, alcohol-free mouthwash you can make at home, mix a cup of water with a teaspoon of baking soda and a few drops of peppermint oil. The baking soda will squelch odor by adjusting the pH of your mouth and the peppermint will add a boost of freshness. Just be sure not to swallow the mixture!

Eat fennel seeds

Wondering how to get rid of bad breath using only your spice cabinet? Chew on a handful of anise or fennel seeds, which have antiseptic properties that limit bacterial growth. Their scents can also cover up stinky breath.

Suck on a cinnamon stick 

Like cloves and fennel seeds, cinnamon is an effective antiseptic. Plus, it has essential oils that kill germs and will leave your mouth smelling nice.

Bite into a clove

This spice is rich in eugenol, a pale yellow oil that has antibacterial properties. To reap its benefits, put one clove in your mouth and bite into it. The oil may burn slightly, so keep moving the clove over your tongue. Once it’s covered your mouth, spit out the clove. Avoid using clove oil or powdered cloves, which could burn your mouth.

Chew a fruit rind 

Rinse off a lemon or orange rind before popping it in your mouth to chew on it. It will give your breath a burst of freshness and the citric acid will encourage glands to produce more saliva.

Munch on a green plant 

Parsley, basil, mint, or cilantro all work as bad breath remedies because they contain chlorophyll, a pigment that neutralizes odors.

Remove your dentures

If you wear dentures, remove them at nighttime and clean them daily to prevent odor-causing bacteria buildup. Next, read up on the 12 things your bad breath is trying to tell you.

Visit Your Dentist Regularly 

If you’re concerned about what’s causing your bad breath, make an appointment to see your dentist. Regular checkups allow your dentist to detect any problems such as gum disease or dry mouth and stop them before they become more serious.

Keep That Saliva Flowing 

To get more saliva moving in your mouth, try eating healthy foods that require a lot of chewing, like carrots or apples. You can also try chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candies. Your dentist may also recommend artificial saliva.

How can my dentist help?

If you do have bad breath, you will need to start a routine for keeping your mouth clean and fresh. Regular check-ups will allow your dentist to watch out for any places where plaque is caught between your teeth. Your dental team will be able to clean all those areas that are difficult to reach. They will also be able to show you the best way to clean your teeth and gums, and show you any areas you may be missing, including your tongue.


What can I do to prevent halitosis? 

Halitosis can be prevented or decreased if you:

  • Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day.
  • Brush your tongue, cheeks, and the roof of your mouth. Most bad breath bacteria live on the tongue. So brushing or scraping the tongue can make a big difference in your breath.
  • If you have dentures, take them out at night. Clean them completely before putting them back in your mouth. Talk with your dentist before using deodorizing sprays or tablets. Some only mask the odor for a short time.
  • If you smoke, quit. You will have better smelling breath and a healthier body overall.
  • Keep your saliva flowing by eating healthy foods that make you chew. Carrots and apples need a lot of saliva. You can also chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candies. If you still don’t have enough saliva to keep your mouth moist, your dentist may suggest artificial saliva.
  • Visit your dentist on a regular basis. Regular checkups can find problems such as gum disease, infections, and dry mouth. If you have bad breath and the dentist can’t find a cause, you may be referred to your primary doctor for more follow-up.