What are some signs I might have bad breath?

Whether you call it bad breath or halitosis, it’s an unpleasant condition that’s cause for embarrassment. Bad breath can be caused by a number of sources. You dentist can help identify the cause and determine the best treatment. 

What causes bad breath?
  • Food. What you eat affects the air you exhale, like garlic or onions. If you don't brush and floss daily, particles of food can remain in the mouth, collecting bacteria, which can cause bad breath. Dieters may develop unpleasant breath from infrequent eating.
  • Gum disease. Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth can also be one of the warning signs of gum disease; which is caused by plaque.
  • Dry mouth. This occurs when the flow of saliva decreases and can be caused by various medications, salivary gland problems or continuously breathing through the mouth. Without enough saliva, food particles are not cleaned away. If you suffer from dry mouth, your dentist may prescribe anartificial saliva, or suggest using sugarless candy or increase your fluid intake.
  • Smoking and tobacco. In addition to staining teeth and being bad for overall health, tobacco can add to bad breath. Tobacco reduces your ability to taste foods and irritates gum tissues. Tobacco users are more likely to suffer from gum disease and are at greater risk for developing oral cancer. If you use tobacco, ask your dentist for tips on kicking the habit.
  • Medical conditions. Some diseases have symptoms related to bad breath. Sinus or lung infections, bronchitis, diabetes, and some liver or kidney diseases may be associated with bad breath.

Bad breath may be the sign of a medical disorder. If your dentist determines that your mouth is healthy, you may be referred to your primary care physician.

Bad Breath, the ubiquitous social turn off, may be negatively affecting more people around than you know because of the reluctance to confront or offend you by being truthful. Worse yet they avoid close contact with you as well. The interesting thing is that many people who suffer from halitosis (i.e., bad breath) are the last to find out because of the difficulty for you to detect this offensive odor by simply breathing out. So here are two quick and easy ways for you for you to "self test" to check for a disorder:

  1. Lick the back of your hand. Let it dry for a few seconds and then smell. If you notice and odor, you have a breath disorder.
  2. Place dental floss between your back teeth and then smell the floss. 
Depending on the underlying reason for your bad breath, you may notice different odors on your breath. These include:
  • A rotten egg-like smell. This odor is usually due to bacteria in your mouth that are releasing a gas called hydrogen sulfide. Brushing and flossing regularly should improve this smell.
  • A fruity odor to the breath. This could be due to a dangerous, potentially fatal, condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. If you have diabetes and notice a strange, fruity smell to your breath, check your sugar level and call your doctor immediately.
  • Your breath smells like feces. If this is the case, it could be because you have been vomiting a lot, or you may have an obstructed bowel.
  • A fishy smell to your breath. A fishy odor may be because you are breathing out ammonia, which could be a symptom of long-term kidney failure.
If your breath does not have any of these unusual smells, but just smells unusually bad, it could be due to the food you ate, smoking, or a sinus infection. If you are worried about your breath, call your dentist or doctor. He or she should be able to answer your questions and diagnose your health problem.
Jonathan B. Levine, DMD

Below is a list of varied telltale signs that could be telling you it’s time to super-size the mouthwash.

  • Dry mouth: With less saliva in your mouth, there's less oxygen because saliva contains oxygen, which you need to keep your mouth healthy and fresh. Less oxygen creates an anaerobic environment (it doesn't require oxygen to survive), which encourages sulfur-producing bacteria. This bacteria create the sulfur gases, which create breath bad.
  • A white-coated tongue: A dry mouth provides the perfect home for the anaerobic bacteria to be fruitful and multiply, encouraging more sulfur compounds to rise to the tongue's surface. When you have a dry mouth, there's no saliva to flush. It’s like a toilet bowl without water.
  • Constantly clearing your throat or having post-nasal drip: Not only do anaerobic bacteria create bad breath by breaking down protein from food we've eaten, but they also go after protein in post nasal drip and mucous, turning that into VSCs as well. The same chemical process happens when you have a sore throat or a cold.
  • Sleeping with your mouth open mouth or snoring: The constant force of air in and out of the mouth dries it and decreases the amount of saliva.
  • A bad taste in your mouth after drinking milk, coffee or beer: When the sugars in these liquids get broken down by the bacteria and turn them into acids, you get an acidic, metallic taste in your mouth. Beer not only contains sugars, but carbohydrates, so the bacteria does double duty breaking down both, which leave a particularly bad taste in your mouth.
  • A constant sour, bitter or metallic taste in your mouth: Your mouth is a veritable petri-dish -- drop some sugar in, and it's attacked by that bacteria, then becomes super-acidic. If this goes on all the time, it's pretty likely your breath is bad most of the time.


Smile!: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Smile Beauty

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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.

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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.