Causes of Bad Breath And How to Combat It

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Bad breath can affect anyone. It may be distressing to the individual who has it, and reduces their self-confidence. Find out more about its causes, and what can be done in this article!


Bad breath, also known as ‘halitosis‘ or ‘oral malodour’ affects about one-third of the population, regardless of their age and gender. It is a recurring and persistent unpleasant smell in a person’s breath, typically with an intensity beyond socially acceptable norms. 

Most people probably have experienced bad breath from themselves or others at some point in their lives. At times, individuals are unaware of their own oral malodour and learn about it from others. This can have a negative impact on their personal relationships and quality of life. Having bad breath can be embarrassing, but there are ways to manage it.

Causes of Bad Breath

In order to treat halitosis more effectively, the first step is to try and establish its source. Generally, oral malodour stems from bacteria in the mouth (for example, on or between the teeth, gums, and tongue). The bacteria acts on food particles left in the oral cavity, converting them into foul-smelling substances that are released in the breath when a person exhales from their mouth. Although most cases of bad breath originate intra-orally, there are also non-oral causes for it. Some causes of bad breath include: 

Certain types of food and beverages

Some examples include garlic, onion, alcohol and coffee. Products consumed are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream where they can be passed into the lungs, thereby potentially affecting a person’s breath. This is usually temporary, and the malodour will go away after the food has been eliminated from the body. 

Poor oral hygiene

Not practicing good dental habits (e.g. brushing and flossing regularly, routine dental check-ups), or poor dental care techniques can result in the accumulation of scraps of food and bacteria in the mouth resulting in bad breath. 

Dentures that are not well maintained

Dentures that are not cleaned regularly and properly may collect bacteria, fungus, and food debris that can result in the development of bad breath. 

Dental problems  

Dental problems such as impacted wisdom tooth and cavities may cause food to be trapped in or between the affected teeth. This makes it difficult for the food to be dislodged, forming a breeding ground for bacteria and hence, leading to bad breath. 

Periodontal diseases 

Gingivitis and periodontitis are types of gum infection whereby bad breath is one of the presentations, and will require medical attention.

Xerostomia (dry mouth)

Saliva helps to cleanse and remove food pieces left in the mouth after eating. When saliva is swallowed, bacteria and the remaining food are ingested along with it and removed. Saliva can also dilute and get rid of substances that might produce oral malodour. Individuals with xerostomia are unable to produce adequate saliva which interferes with the self-cleansing properties of the mouth. Dry mouth can be associated with advanced age, the use of certain medications, a salivary gland disorder, or frequently breathing through the mouth instead of the nose. 

Use of tobacco products

Cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco can also cause bad breath.

Certain health conditions

  • Respiratory infections
  • Nasal, mouth, or throat malignancies
  • Diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (e.g. GERD and stomach cancer)
  • Liver or kidney dysfunction

5 Tips on Managing Bad Breath 

1. Develop good oral care habits

Brushing of teeth at least twice a day or after each meal. Flossing two times daily. When brushing, ensure that the teeth, cheeks, roof of the mouth, and tongue are cleaned. Avoid alcohol-containing mouthwashes as they can be drying.

2. Keep dentures clean

Remove dentures at the end of the day and clean them thoroughly before using them again. 

3. Quit smoking or using of any tobacco products

4. Be mindful of products that you consume

Avoid eating odour producing foods and drinks.  Eat foods that encourage saliva production (for example foods that require more chewing like apples and carrots, or sugar-free gum/sweets). When taking medications that could cause dry mouth, drink sufficient fluids throughout the day (provided you have no fluid restrictions), or use oral moisturizing agents. If you experience severe dry mouth from the medications you are taking, inform your health practitioner.

5. See a dentist and go for routine dental check-ups

Visit a dental practitioner for professional cleaning and treatment if needed (for example if you have a gum infection). Make regular visits to the dentist (e.g. every 6 months), so that any oral problems can be detected and managed readily.


In conclusion, having bad breath usually does not require urgent medical attention. However, as it can affect a person’s wellbeing, getting it evaluated by a healthcare professional where possible is recommended so the problem can be alleviated promptly. This is also to ensure that the halitosis is not linked to more serious health issues. 

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