How can I prevent bad breath (halitosis)?

Dealing with bad breath is a common problem and may be embarrassing or unpleasant. Some simple tricks may help fix the problems. Mouth rinses may help kill odor producing bacteria. Brushing your tongue can also help get rid of decaying food particles and bacteria. Chewing gum helps produce saliva which may help wash away food particles and bacteria to help eliminate odor. Finally, if these tips don’t help, bad breath may be a sign of underlying disease such as poor dental health or acid reflux, so check in with your doctor or dentist for further evaluation.
This age-old problem has numerous causes, but in an estimated 85% of the cases, the odor originates from the mouth. In the remainder of the cases, the nose, tonsils, and other ailments contribute to bad breath. Treatment for bad breath must address the source of the problem. When the mouth is the cause of bad breath, food, oral habits and dental health should be examined first. Foods or beverages such as garlic, onions, and coffee, and habits such as smoking and chewing tobacco can contribute to bad breath. Dental problems such as broken teeth that trap food, infected teeth that abscess, or untreated periodontal (gum) disease are common causes of bad breath.

If the teeth and gums are healthy, the tongue is the most likely culprit. The back, top part of the tongue is a common and overlooked cause of bad breath. There is speculation that chronic postnasal drip that collects on the tongue becomes infiltrated with bacteria causing odor. Tongue brushing or the use of a tongue-scraper can often alleviate this source. People who wear dentures without taking them out at night or cleaning them properly can have bad breath.

Excellent oral hygiene, brushing at least three times a day and flossing once a day is essential to fighting bad breath. It may be beneficial to chew sugarless gum and drink water throughout the day to moisten the mouth, which may reduce mouth odor. If odor persists after the teeth, gums, and tongue are clean and healthy, a prescription mouth rinse such as Peridex can be prescribed. If none of these measures succeed, a medical doctor should be consulted to explore other potential causes.
Tom Berry
Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery
Most of the time bad breath can be prevented by good oral hygiene and regular dental visits. Limiting spicy foods like onions and garlic and avoiding tobacco products would be helpful.
Maintaining good oral health is essential to reducing bad breath. Schedule regular dental visits for a professional cleaning and checkup. If you think you have constant bad breath, keep a log of the foods you eat and make a list of medications you take. Some medications may play a role in creating mouth odors. Let your dentist know if you've had any surgery or illness since your last appointment.

Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove food debris and plaque. Brush your tongue, too. Once a day, use floss to clean between teeth.
Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
The most effective ways to tame bad breath are:
  • Have your teeth professionally cleaned at least three times a year.
  • Floss every day.
  • Brush at least twice a day.
  • Brush and scrape your tongue frequently.
  • Try an antibacterial gel.
  • Use an alcohol-free mouthwash once a day.
  • Use anti-bacterial sprays. They're also a quick way to give your mouth a clean sweep. Stick one in your purse or leave one by your front door so you'll get into the habit of using it right before you leave the house.
  • Drink water frequently, both to keep lingering food particles from sticking as well as to fend off dry mouth.
Smile!: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Smile Beauty

More About this Book

Smile!: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Smile Beauty

Renowned dentist and creator of the GoSMILE product line Dr. Levine offers this complete guide to getting a whiter, brighter smile. 15 photos & illustrations.
Joan Haizlip, MSN
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Here are some tips to prevent halitosis:
  • Brush your teeth after each meal. Be sure to brush along the gum line, as well as all tooth surfaces.
  • Each time you brush your teeth, use your toothbrush to clean the surface of your tongue.
  • Floss your teeth at least once a day to remove food from between your teeth.
  • Avoid foods that cause you to have bad breath.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages, which often cause bad breath.
  • Avoid using tobacco products. Any kind of tobacco can cause halitosis.
  • If you get a dry mouth, you can suck on sugar-free mints, chew sugar-free gum  or drink more water.
  • See your dentist twice a year to have your teeth cleaned.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
We all know the nasty feeling of holding a conversation with a person whose breath smells like three-week-old leftovers. We all pray that we're never the source of such stench. Bad breath (or halitosis) comes from lots of places: Some stems from food getting trapped in pockets in the tonsils, some comes from the stomach, and still others originate from the tongue -- where the stench from a bacteria build-up can clear a room. Some even comes as a side effect of medication. One good way to handle bad breath: A tongue scraper, which removes bacteria and takes some of the stink away. Some research shows that the tongue scraper reduces nasty compounds on the tongue by 75 percent (compared to only 45 percent by toothbrush alone). You only need about ten seconds. Just take the scraper and run it over your tongue. If your breath is just relentlessly offensive, talk to your dentist, who might even prescribe a few days of antibiotics. Your date (and co-workers and subway companions) will thank you.
YOU: Being Beautiful: The Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty

More About this Book

YOU: Being Beautiful: The Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty

Most people think that beauty revolves around such things as lipstick, sweet eyes, or skinny jeans -- all those things that we can see (and obsess over) in the mirror. But the fact is that beauty...

Bad breath (halitosis) can be prevented by proper dental care and hygiene. Avoiding smoking, and foods that are known contributors to bad breath, such as onions, garlic, and cabbage, can help. Drinking plenty of water keeps your mouth hydrated and increases saliva production.

In order to prevent halitosis, one must get rid of the bacteria in the mouth and the volatile sulfur compounds it creates. The crucial steps include: repairing faulty dental work, treating gum disease, increasing water consumption and, of course, a regular regimen of brushing, flossing and tongue scraping.

Continue Learning about Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Breath Stress . . . Be Gone!
Breath Stress . . . Be Gone!
Get an upset stomach and here's what else you can get: bad breath. How can you keep that total turnoff from happening? Yogurt. Not only is it easy on ...
Read More
What could cause a rotten taste in my mouth?
American Dental AssociationAmerican Dental Association
A rotten taste could be related to halitosis, also known as bad breath. Bad breath is an unpleasa...
More Answers
Can I use over-the-counter products to get rid of bad breath?
American Dental AssociationAmerican Dental Association
Over-the-counter products such as mouthwashes are generally cosmetic and do not have a long-lasting ...
More Answers
Embarrassing Stomach Issues, Solved
Embarrassing Stomach Issues, Solved

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.