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The Main Causes of Bad Breath


Bad breath, or halitosis, is an embarrassing condition. It’s also one of the most common – a quarter of us get it regularly and it can affect us at any time. The good news is that there are ways to treat it.

Dr Mervyn Druian, from The London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry, explains: “There are a few reasons why people may suffer from halitosis; however, over 90% of the circumstances are due to poor oral hygiene and, in more serious cases, gum disease.”

So, how can you tell if you’ve got halitosis? Try licking the inside of your wrist, wait for the saliva to dry then smell it. If there’s an unpleasant aroma, your breath probably smells. Or “if there is any bleeding of gums when brushing teeth there's a very strong chance of bad breath occurring,” says Dr Druian.


Reasons for bad breath

Poor oral hygiene

The less we brush our teeth and floss the more food stays trapped between them, allowing bacteria (which breaks down food) to build up and release foul-smelling gases. Food and drink Strong smelling foods such as garlic and onions are renowned for causing bad breath, whilst coffee and alcohol reduce saliva flow, enabling oral bacteria to hang around longer.


Smoking is a particular offender for a number of reasons: smoke lingers in the lungs and mouth, creating a stale stink associated with smoker’s breath; smoking dries out the mouth so oral bacteria is less likely to be washed away; and cigarette and tobacco smoke contains pungent chemicals that create pungent breath. Smoking also contributes to the build-up of tartar on teeth, which can increase the chances of gum disease.

Gum disease/gingivitis

Gingivitis – a more advanced form of gum disease – is when gums bleed or become infected. If this sounds familiar you’re not alone – it’s thought that more than half of British adults have experienced it.

Dentures, crowns, bridges and fillings

Dentures that aren’t cleaned regularly, cracked fillings or ill-fitting crowns and bridges can all be attributed to bad breath.

Certain diets

Fasting, high protein and low-carb regimes are notorious for producing this undesirable side effect. These diets cause the body to break down fat quickly, resulting in ketoacidosis that gives breath a fruity, off-putting smell.


Being dehydrated dries out the mouth so there is less moisture to wash away bacteria.


Certain medications bring about halitosis, often because a dry mouth is a side effect.


Gastrointestinal issues such as reflux disease (GORD), and lung, throat, sinus or nose infections, as well as more serious conditions, can be responsible. Dr Druian recommends “a visit to your GP, as the malodour might be a sign of an illness such as heart disease or diabetes.”

Short-term ways to prevent bad breath

Practise good oral hygiene – this includes brushing your teeth for two minutes focusing on where your teeth and gums meet as well as brushing right to the back of your tongue, flossing, drinking plenty of fluids and using a mouthwash like LISTERINE® in the morning and evening to kill bacteria in hard to reach places

Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration

Avoid strong smelling food and drinks such as coffee

Chew sugar-free gum after each meal to encourage saliva and help loosen food from teeth and gums

Long-term ways to prevent bad breath

Have regular check-ups. Dr Druian explains that dentists will determine whether bad breath is caused by gum disease.

Replace your toothbrush every four months

Cut down on sugar, which stimulates oral bacteria

Eat vitamin-C rich fruit and vegetables (these include tomatoes, oranges and mangoes) as the vitamin creates an unwelcome environment for bad bacteria

Eat raw, crunchy produce such as carrots and apples to remove trapped food from the teeth and increase saliva production

According to a small Japanese study, a daily serving of sugar-free probiotic yoghurt has shown to reduce levels of bad bacteria in the mouth

Alternatively, an everyday probiotic can replace bad bacteria in your gut or mouth with the good stuff, aiding the elimination of offensive odours

Nibble on fresh parsley and fennel seeds, sip on ginger tea, or rinse out your mouth with a solution of warm water and thyme oil

Stop smoking!

See your doctor if you suspect your medication or an illness is to blame.

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