Bad Breath Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

 In Dental

The causes of bad breath can be either intraoral (caused by conditions in the mouth), or extraoral (caused by conditions external to the mouth).

Intraoral halitosis is the most common kind of bad breath and is caused by the bacteria breaking down the proteins present in the mouth, be it from food, saliva or decaying oral tissue. The breakdown of that protein results in the production of volatile sulphur compounds, which cause the bad odour. The bacteria that break down the protein are anaerobic, which means they thrive without oxygen.

Extraoral causes are usually associated with an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes; or medications that have this unwanted side effect.

Causes of Bad Breath

  • Bad Diet. Foods such as garlic and onion are rich in volatile sulphur compounds and therefore exacerbate the problem.
  • Poor Dental Hygiene. Poor and irregular brushing and flossing leave pieces of food stuck in your mouth, that, when decomposing, are a rich, continuous breeding ground for volatile sulphur compounds.
  • Coating of the Tongue. Significant coating of the dorsal surface of the tongue is indicative of a build-up of food and bacteria which will contribute to the bad odour.
  • Gum Disease. Gingivitis and periodontitis are gum diseases caused by accumulation of pockets of bacteria under the gum line, which leads to infection and which can produce a foul odour in the mouth.
  • Dental Cavities. Tooth decay and the resultant infections can contribute to bad breath.
  • Dry Mouth. This is a medical condition known as xerostomia. The causes range from insufficient saliva, to the effects of medication.


It may require the co-operation of both your dentist and your physician to determine the underlying causes of your bad breath. In the case of suspected tonsillitis and sinusitis, a throat, ear and nose specialist might have to be consulted. The treatment will depend on the causes, but will generally follow the following steps.

  • Brushing teeth and scraping the tongue twice daily to reduce the amount of odour producing bacteria.
  • Flossing once a day.
  • Professional deep cleaning and the treatment of any gum disease
  • Antibacterial mouthwash to attempt to reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth.
  • Lozenges and sugar-free chewing gum to induce the production of saliva. Failing that, the introduction of saliva producing medication.
  • Proper control of existing medical conditions and the effects of medication.


  • Maintain a good oral hygiene regimen. Brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss at least once a day.
  • Replace your toothbrush every 2 to 3 months and after a serious illness.
  • Rinse with antibacterial mouthwash at least twice a day.
  • Visit your dentist twice a year and get a deep clean at least once a year.
  • Drink lots of water and use sugarless chewing gum to help the production of saliva.

Bad breath can be effectively treated, as long as you can determine the underlying cause. By following the simple steps outlined above, it is possible to prevent a re-occurrence of bad breath. Consult your dentist and physician to determine the best course to follow.

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