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What Causes Bad Breath - The 5 T's of Halitosis

Updated on February 24, 2017

Holy Halitosis!

Holy Halitosis! For some people, bad breath (halitosis) can be an embarrassing problem that makes social interaction a real nightmare.

Understanding that bad breath does not necessarily mean bad oral hygiene is an important first step, but let’s take a look at four possible causes I like to call the 5 T’s.


Halitosis T #1 - Teeth

According to, “if you don't brush and floss daily, food particles remain in your mouth, causing bad breath. A colorless, sticky film of bacteria (plaque) forms on your teeth.” The site goes on to say that plaque can cause gingivitis (gum irritation) and periodontitis (plaque-filled pockets between your teeth and gums) which also contribute to bad breath.

You might be surprised what the teeth can hold that makes breath unpleasant. We found this out the hard way when one of my children started experiencing horrific bad breathe after dental surgery. After a recheck, the dentist extracted the culprit - an old piece of gauze still packed in her tooth socket.

Brushing after every meal and before bed as well as flossing and seeing your dentist for regular cleanings are ways to ensure your teeth (and gums) remain healthy.

Halitosis T #2 - Tonsils

According to, “Your tonsils are filled with nooks and crannies where bacteria and other materials, including dead cells and mucous, can become trapped. When this occurs, the debris can become concentrated in white, hardened formations that occur in the pockets.” These formulations the site goes on to explain are called “Tonsil stones” or “tonsilloliths” .

These nasty little aliens are not only uncomfortable, but they are another cause of bad breath. Although most stones comes out on their own, if gargling with salt water, utilizing a cotton swab to free the stone or flexing your throat muscles don’t remove the stone, see an ear, nose and throat doctor.


Halitosis T #3 - Tongue

Although it might not be suspect, the uneven surface of the tongue can also harbor bacteria that cause bad breath. According to a Huffington Post article, "there are billions of bacteria on your tongue. …microbes that live in the mouth are the main culprit of halitosis -- about 90 percent of all cases."

Using your toothbrush or a tongue scraper as well as using mouth wash can aid in remedying this issue. You want to be gentle, however, and not damage the delicate surface of the tongue.

Halitosis T #4 - Tasty Foods

According to, certain foods can cause bad breath.

  • Sugary foods are a quick food source for bacteria and bacteria cause plaque which causes bad breath.
  • Acidic food have a heightened pH level – bacteria can thrive in higher acidic environments. Foods high in acid are items such as lemons oranges and tomatoes.
  • Foods that cause dry mouth – the biggest culprit is alcohol. Dry mouths can help anaerobic bacteria to flourish and anaerobic bacteria is killed by the oxygen in your saliva. Hence, dry mouths can cause bad breath. Smoking is also a culprit.
  • Foods that get stuck in the mouth and require flossing after eating can also be troublesome - things such as meat popcorn, sticky candy, spinach or coconut.
  • Foods with a strong odor – this is pretty much a given with garlic and onions being on the top of the list and curry coming a close second.

Halitosis T #5 - Tummy Woes

According to an article on the website, "A new study has linked the treatment of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) with curing the chronic bad breath (halitosis) ... H. pylori is a bacterium that infects the stomach, and is associated with stomach cancer and ulcer disease."

When my daughter starting struggling with bad breath, I mentioned it to her dental hygienist at her regular appointment. The hygienist very quickly pointed out stomach issues as being the cause. An article on Fox News also notes, "The main way the stomach can cause bad breath is through acid reflux, a condition in which acid and other contents of your stomach leak up out of the organ, into the esophagus." A gastroenterologist could diagnosis a stomach issue such as acid reflux.

An interesting side note on stomachs and bad breath - we all know that yogurt contains "good bacteria" - an article on we read, "Yogurt-eating participants showed an 80 percent decrease in their levels of hydrogen sulfide-a bad breath-causing compound-on their tongues and in the air inside their mouths after six weeks of eating yogurt." This might be an interesting and easy solution for those with chronic bad breath.

Through a process of elimination, looking into the 5 T's of bad breath can hopefully help you locate the source of your unpleasantness so that your next close interaction is fresh and sweet.


"BreathMD | Foods that Cause Bad Breath." N.p., 3 May 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2013. <>.

Katz, Harold. "Dr. Harold Katz: Bad Breath and Your Tongue." Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. N.p., 2 Dec. 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2013. <>.

Mayo Clinic Staff. "Bad breath: Causes -" Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2013. <>.

"Tonsil Stones (Tonsilloliths): Treatment and Prevention." WebMD - Better information. Better health.. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

They Have Bad Breath Poll

If someone you are talking to has bad breath, what would you do?

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    • carlajbehr profile imageAUTHOR

      Carla J Swick 

      7 years ago from NW PA

      Thanks much for reading! cjb

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      Great hub topic and well covered.

    • carlajbehr profile imageAUTHOR

      Carla J Swick 

      7 years ago from NW PA

      They are nasty little must have expelled them all. Thank God! Thanks for sharing.

    • Alex Mathews profile image

      Alex Mathews 

      7 years ago from United States

      Love the hub Carla! I never knew what a tonsil stone was until I got one. Luckily mine wasn't uncomfortable, just a shocking surprise to me. Not sure why I got them almost daily for a couple of months, and then I simply quit getting them.

    • carlajbehr profile imageAUTHOR

      Carla J Swick 

      7 years ago from NW PA

      Lisa, Thanks for sharing - mine had to do with tonsil stones - once they were extracted, I was fine. I have a friend who works in dental hygiene - she could not stress enough how important flossing is. I'll have to check out Oraltech and see what they offer just for future reference. Appreicate the read.

    • profile image

      Lisa Evans 

      7 years ago

      Oraltech Labs worked for my bad breath and I think I tried most other products on the market. It’s not easy as the program has you treating all causes of bad breath just in case your suffering from any one cause and don’t know it. However when I had bad breath I lost many job opportunities and all my friends so I was happy to follow the program just to get my life back. Anyway it’s worth it to cure bad breath.

    • profile image

      Lisa Evans 

      7 years ago

      great post

    • carlajbehr profile imageAUTHOR

      Carla J Swick 

      7 years ago from NW PA

      That's great advice! I will remember that : o

    • WVitanyi profile image

      William R Vitanyi 

      7 years ago from Edinboro, Pennsylvania

      Great hub, Carla, although there is a positive side to halitosis if properly managed: it can keep your boss away!


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