Top 5 Causes of Halitosis (Bad Breath) and How to Stop It From Ruining Your Life

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More often than not, individuals with bad breath are the last to know. Nobody wants to tell a friend or family member that their breath stinks, just like no one wants to hear this kind of truth. 

A woman covers her mouth as green smoke exits, indicating bad breath.

If you are unaware that you have halitosis (bad breath) and someone in your life is kind enough (or rude enough) to inform you of this condition, consider yourself lucky. 

Now, at least, you can do something about it.

Causes of Bad Breath and How to Treat Them

The first step in combating halitosis is to understand what’s causing it. 

Anyone can have bad breath from time to time after eating foods like garlic and onions or drinking alcohol. However, when sour-smelling breath is the rule and not the exception, it’s usually caused by one or more of the following culprits.

1. Poor Oral Hygiene 

Inadequate oral hygiene is a common cause of bad breath, and if addressed before gum disease takes hold, it’s the easiest to correct.

  • Brush your teeth (and tongue) twice per day, every day, and add an extra brushing when consuming sugary, starchy, or sticky foods to remove leftover debris, plaque, and the bacteria that cause halitosis.
  • Floss at least once daily. If dental work, arthritis, or small motor skill issues make it hard to use dental floss, try interdental brushes (available at any drugstore) instead.
  • See your dentist for regular cleanings and checkups to prevent decay from damaging your teeth and gum disease from causing a number of problems for your oral and overall health. 
  • Don’t smoke! Smoking can cause bad breath in three ways: 
    1. The unpleasant smell of tobacco lingers.
    2. It dries out the mouth.
    3. It can lead to gum disease.

When you don’t take care of your teeth and gums properly, gum disease is inevitable. It not only causes chronic halitosis but has also been linked to several systemic health problems.  

2. Dry Mouth 

Saliva helps neutralize and wash away oral bacteria. This potent bacteria can flourish when your mouth is dry, leading to bad breath. Dry mouth (xerostomia) refers to decreased saliva production and can be caused by certain conditions, medications, and smoking

There are many ways to increase moisture levels in your mouth:

  • Drink more water
  • Chew sugar-free gum to stimulate your salivary glands 
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and alcohol-based mouthwash as they slow saliva production

Many herbs can be used to encourage saliva production and help relieve dry mouth:

  • Ginger 
  • Spilanthes
  • Nopal cactus  
  • Sweet pepper
  • Hollyhock root 
  • Marshmallow root 

One of the most effective methods of keeping your mouth moist is by adding a few drops of food-grade aloe vera to your drinking water. 

Over-the-counter dry mouth treatments are also available.

3. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD is a disorder that involves stomach acid leaking into your esophagus and is another common cause of halitosis. 

If you think you have this condition, see your doctor for treatment advice, and in the meantime, try the following tips:

  • Wait two to three hours before lying down after eating.
  • At night, use pillows to raise your head and torso to discourage liquids from rising from your stomach.
  • Eat several small meals during the day instead of three larger ones.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Chew gum to reduce reflux and freshen your breath at the same time.

After seeing your doctor, take any prescribed or OTC medicines as directed. 

4. Tonsil Stones

Tiny pieces of undigested food that look like cottage cheese curds stuck in the back of your throat, and have a foul smell, are called tonsil stones or tonsilloliths. While common and usually harmless, tonsil stones sometimes indicate health issues, such as tonsillitis, infection, or poor oral hygiene. 

See your doctor if you have other symptoms like a fever or sore throat. Otherwise, you may be able to dislodge tonsil stones and reduce their occurrence by gargling with warm salt water and using a cotton swab to remove them. Make sure you are brushing and flossing your teeth regularly.

5. Gum Disease

The last way you want to hear your breath described is by someone using the term trench mouth, but it happens. Sadly, trench mouth is an actual condition involving bleeding gums, intense oral pain, fatigue, and fever caused by advanced gum disease (periodontitis). 

Early gum disease (gingivitis) is common, but untreated gingivitis can progress quickly. Advanced periodontitis causes chronic bad breath while destroying gum tissue and underlying bone, which leads to tooth loss. 

If you see any signs of redness, swelling, or bleeding in your gums, call your dentist or periodontist immediately to prevent advanced gum disease and improve your breath.

Looking for a Compassionate San Diego Dental Care Provider?

Are you experiencing halitosis or gum disease? Call our San Diego, California, dental practice today at (858) 281-0653 for compassionate care and put all that in the past!

La Jolla Cosmetic Dentistry and Orthodontics offers comprehensive dental care in San Diego, California, including periodontics and general dentistry services.