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What are the Causes of Bad Breath?

Updated on March 16, 2011

Halitosis is the term that dentists used to describe “bad breath”.  Bad breath may be acute (short term) or chronic (long term).  Acute halitosis varies from day to day depending on the types of food and drinks that you consume and how well you clean you mouth.  It also varies depending on the time of day.  For instance, during the night when the mouth is exposed to less oxygen, halitosis usually develops and many individuals wake up in the morning with “morning breath”.  Acute halitosis is usually transient and is easily resolved after brushing, flossing, rinsing, eating or drinking.  Chronic halitosis, which causes persistent bad breath, is usually indicative of a more serious underlying condition which may be health related. 

What are the Causes of Bad Breath?

1. What you eat - certain foods contribute to bad breath, such as garlic and onions.  When the food is absorbed into the blood stream, it gets transferred to the lungs where the odours are given off through the breath.

2. Infrequent consumption of food and drinks – which usually occurs in dieters.

3. High protein diets – when the body metabolises protein for energy, ketosis occurs.  One of the by-products of ketosis is acetone which is a waste product that is excreted through urine and the breath.  Dieters on high protein diets tend to produce an excess of acetone which is eliminated through the breath, causing bad breath.

4. Poor oral hygiene – remnants of food particles trapped in between the teeth and gums can rot, causing an unpleasant odour.  Individuals with mouth appliances, such as dentures and bridges, who do not clean them effectively can also have resultant bad breath.

5. Gum disease – as gum disease progresses, bacteria build up in the pockets between the gums and the teeth.  These bacteria are anaerobic in nature and produce gaseous compounds during metabolism that have a distinctively unpleasant odour.

6. Dental abscess – dental cavities and severe gum disease that are left untreated can lead to the formation of dental abscesses, which are basically pocket of pus and bacteria forming in the soft tissue area under the teeth.

7. Dry mouth – generally referred to as xerostomia, dry mouth occurs when the flow of saliva in the mouth decreases.  Saliva serves an important function to clean the mouth and remove particles that cause bad breath.  Dry mouth is usually caused by specific medications, medical problems involving the salivary glands, and mouth breathing.

8. Smoking and use of tobacco products.

9. Medical conditions – certain infections that involve the respiratory tract are often the cause of bad breath.  Other medical conditions include chronic sinusitis, postnasal drip, diabetes, gastrointestinal disturbances, and liver or kidney diseases.  There is an extensive list of conditions that can cause bad breath on Wrong Diagnosis.

Bad breath may be transient or it may be a long term problem.  Often an embarrassing condition that affects both the self-esteem and confidence of an individual, bad breath is one of the top three reasons why people visit the dentist.  There are a large variety of factors that can cause bad breath.  If bad breath persists despite taking regular measures to prevent it, such as proper brushing and flossing and avoiding the consumption of “smelly” foods, then it is possible that there may be an underlying condition that requires further investigation by your dentist.


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