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Halitosis: What Are the Causes of Bad Breath and How To Get Rid of It?


Bad breath: nobody wants it, nobody wants the people around them to have it, and yet most of us experience it from time to time. This ailment may be temporary, brought on by something you've eaten or a brief lapse in oral hygiene. But if it doesn't seem to go away, it may be chronic bad breath, known as halitosis.

woman with halitosis covering her mouth
Discover bad breath causes and how to cure it

Either way, you're probably wondering how to stop bad breath for good and what you can do to get rid of bad breath if you're struggling with it right now. Or, perhaps you're concerned about your child or baby's smelly breath? In this article you can discover:

  • Halitosis definition
  • Common bad breath symptoms
  • Causes of bad breath in children and adults
  • Immediate bad breath remedies
  • Long-term halitosis cures
  • Ways to keep your breath fresh

Our aim is to provide information for how to cure bad breath, and to help you make better choices about your oral health.

What is halitosis?

Sometimes ‘halitosis' is used as the medical term for bad breath. But some organizations, including the American Dental Association, make a distinction between smelly breath and halitosis. These organizations define halitosis as chronic bad breath, meaning it is a recurring condition rather than a temporary problem. A lot of people throw around the term ‘chronic halitosis' which is actually quite redundant. The term ‘oral malodor' might also be used to talk about the wider problem of smelly breath.

man at the dentist
Most often, causes of these symptoms originate in the mouth

In any case, the important thing is to understand the causes of halitosis and know what to do about it.

More often than not, smelly breath is caused by bacteria in the mouth and throat. In fact, it's estimated that around 90% of cases have their origin in the oral cavity. There are numerous factors that can contribute to smelly breath, and we'll cover those in more detail below.

In the remaining 10% of cases, bad breath can come from the stomach or other parts of the body because of underlying medical conditions. Certain medications can also cause breath to smell bad.

How to tell if you have it

So how do you tell if you have bad breath? It can be hard to know if you have it, since there are no visible halitosis symptoms.

One way to check your breath yourself is to lick your wrist, wait for it to dry, and give it a sniff. If it smells bad where you licked it, chances are your breath smells the same. This test isn't foolproof, but it should give you a good indication of what others can smell.

You might notice people turning away when you talk to them, but it's best not to over-analyze such behavior. While some people can be completely oblivious to the odors they're projecting towards others, some people believe they have constant bad breath when in fact their breath is normal. This is known as ‘halitophobia', fear of smelly breath. People with halitophobia can become obsessed with their oral hygiene in an effort to improve their breath, and this may result in damage to teeth and gums through over-brushing.

If you want to know if your breath smells bad, it's best to ask a close friend or family member who you trust to give you an honest answer. Alternatively, mention your concerns to your dentist or hygienist at your next visit. They won't be embarrassed to tell you the truth, and can offer advice if it turns out you do have it.

What causes bad breath?

So what causes halitosis? Let's take a look at some of the most common causes of bad breath, and the people who might be most susceptible.

Poor oral hygiene

One of the most common reasons for smelly breath is a buildup of food particles and plaque in the mouth. Food not removed by brushing and flossing will start to rot, emitting the same kinds of smells you'd expect from a kitchen bin or compost heap.

Meanwhile, a sticky film, plaque, is constantly building up on your teeth. The bacteria in plaque feed on carbohydrates left behind from your food and drink, producing acids in the process. As you can imagine, plaque doesn't make your mouth smell great.

If you have crooked teeth or wear fixed braces, there are more places for food to become trapped and for bacteria to build up. Removable braces and dentures can also become smelly if they aren't cleaned properly.

Saliva goes some way towards neutralizing plaque acids and washing away bad smells, but regular brushing and flossing is the only way to combat this problem properly.

Dental problems

Infections and halitosis

Plaque (and the acid it produces) is responsible for tooth decay, cavities and gum disease. If one of your teeth is rotting, it stands to reason that it will produce a bad smell. Any other kind of infection in the mouth, for example from an impacted tooth, abscess or ulcer, might also lead to halitosis.

Tooth extraction

If you notice bad breath after a tooth extraction, including bad breath after wisdom teeth removal, it could be a sign of infection or dry socket. Contact your dentist straight away, especially if you are experiencing pain.

Food, drink and smoking

The things you consume affect how your breath smells. The following may all cause bad breath:

foods that cause bad breath
These foods can cause your symptoms
  • Tobacco: Smoking causes smelly breath because the chemicals in tobacco leave a bad odor in the mouth and throat. Tobacco products can also contribute to gum disease and dry out the mouth, making your symptoms worse.
  • Sugary and acidic foods: Although these foods that cause bad breath aren't particularly smelly themselves, they contribute to faster plaque buildup.
  • Strong-smelling foods: The foods that cause bad breath are pretty obvious; garlic, onion, spicy foods, and fish can all leave behind a smell that's hard to disguise.
  • Alcohol: Not only does alcohol dry the mouth out; many types of alcohol also contain sugars. The perfect recipe for bad morning breath, especially if you forget to brush your teeth after consuming it.
  • Coffee: The acidity and strong aroma of coffee lead to its distinctive smell.
  • Keto bad breath: “Keto” diets which involve high fat and protein intake result in the production of smelly chemicals called ketones. This is one of the most easily identifiable types of bad breath smells, something like a fruity nail polish remover. Ketones are also produced when a person with diabetes is low on insulin.

Dry mouth

woman smoking
Smoking contributes to foul-smelling breath in a number of ways

Another of the causes of bad breath is a condition called xerostomia, more commonly known as ‘dry mouth'.  This occurs when the salivary glands aren't producing enough saliva to keep the mouth moist.

Without enough saliva in the mouth, food isn't washed away as effectively and bacteria build up more quickly, causing breath to stink. Factors that contribute to this condition include alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, certain medications, and some medical conditions. Read more in our full dry mouth article here.

Nose and throat infections

A sinus infection or sore throat and smelly breath often go hand-in-hand. Excess mucus produced by your body to fight these infections causes post-nasal drip, and oral malodor arises from bacteria feeding on that mucus in your throat. If you have post-nasal drip bad breath, symptoms are likely to go away once your sinus infection is gone.

Bad breath from stomach causes

Although the causes of bad breath are usually in the mouth, it's possible to get bad breath from the stomach as a result of other health conditions, including:

  • Acid reflux
  • Diabetes
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Other digestive/metabolic problems
  • Stomach cancer

In the short video clip below, it is explained exactly how acid reflux can cause halitosis. Your GP can advise you if you're concerned about this or any of the other problems mentioned above.

How to cure bad breath from the stomach

If you're wondering how to cure bad breath coming from the stomach, the most important thing you can do is visit your doctor; you can work together to come up with a plan for how to treat bad breath.

Stinky breath in the morning

If your breath smells bad in the morning, it could be a sign you didn't do a good enough job of removing plaque from your teeth the night before. The fact that your mouth naturally dries out overnight doesn't help.

Using an antibacterial mouthwash right before bedtime can help keep bacteria at bay until the morning and alleviate bad morning breath. Just don't use mouthwash immediately after brushing, as it washes off the beneficial ingredients in your toothpaste.

If you have constant bad breath in the morning, consider using a plaque disclosing tablet after brushing in the evening. This will show you exactly how much plaque is left on your teeth after you think they are clean. Also, take note of what you eat in the evening, and avoid foods and drinks that make your morning breath worse.

Bad breath in children

Bad breath can occur in kids and toddlers, just like with adults if they don't keep their teeth clean. To prevent your kid or toddler from having smelly breath, take them for regular dental visits to check for cavities. You'll also want to make sure to prevent symptoms in children by establishing a good oral hygiene routine early on. Additionally, bad breath in children, especially younger children and toddlers, might also be caused by something they've stuck up their nose.

Smelly breath in babies

If your baby has symptoms while teething, it's possible that some food has got stuck under one of the small flaps of gum. For baby bad breath, use a baby toothbrush for prevention, but speak to a dentist if you notice inflammation that's worsening.

Bad breath during pregnancy

It's quite common for women to experience bad breath in pregnancy, especially if they are vomiting due to morning sickness, which is one of the bad breath causes during pregnancy. As well as this, bad breath during pregnancy may be caused by a calcium deficiency. Another reason for bad breath during pregnancy are hormonal changes in the mouth that contribute to dehydration and halitosis.

Even if you don't experience increased bad breath in pregnancy, you might notice other people's halitosis way more, due to increased sense of smell!

How to get rid of bad breath fast

So you've got a job interview or a first date coming up and you realize your breath isn't as fresh as you'd like, and you need a fast halitosis cure; what do you do? Here are some ways to fix bad breath quickly—ranging from store-bought solutions to halitosis home remedies—but keep in mind that these are only good for getting rid of bad breath temporarily.

Best products for bad breath

Since halitosis is such a common thing that we deal with, you can choose from tons of bad breath products online, at the supermarket, at the pharmacy and even at the gas station. Have a look at the following bad breath products to see if any are appealing to you.

The best mouthwash for bad breath

Mouthwash for halitosis
This may be the best mouthwash for bad breath

A quick swish with bad breath mouthwash helps stop bad breath in a couple of ways. Firstly, it can dislodge food particles and bacteria that would otherwise be making your mouth smell. Secondly, it freshens breath, usually with mint or other herbs.

There are normal mouthwashes, and then there are specifically bad breath mouthwashes. TheraBreath mouthwash is a great option for those who prefer a mild mint flavor and are looking for a product made in the US. What's more, this mouthwash for halitosis is vegan, kosher and free from artificial colors and flavors. Although it's not as cheap as other brands, users say it's worth paying the extra for a product that really does work.

“This mouthwash isn't cheap but it works for me so I think it's worth it.” says one reviewer.

Not to mention, this quick bad breath cure has received the ADA Seal of Acceptance. We've got more product recommendations in our complete guide to mouthwash, if you're interested to know about some other options.

Best toothpaste for bad breath

Best toothpaste for halitosis
Try a toothpaste for bad breath

If you're wondering how to prevent bad breath, you're in luck, because sometimes the solution can be quite simple. In this case, brushing your teeth regularly is an important part of preventing halitosis, but the toothpaste you use can make a difference too. Most commercial brands have a special variant of toothpaste for bad breath, like Colgate MaxFresh.

A natural herbal toothpaste might also be effective at stopping bad breath; our guide to natural and homemade toothpaste has some recommendations and recipes. Ultimately, the best toothpaste for your bad breath may come down to personal preference as much as the toothpaste itself.

Chewing gum/mints

Wondering how to get rid of smelly breath on the go? If you're out and about, although not a bad breath cure, the most convenient way to get rid of bad breath is usually with chewing gum or mints. They're widely available, you don't have to find a bathroom, and within a couple of minutes your mouth should be much fresher.

Choose a brand and flavor according to your own preference, but make sure it's sugar-free. Otherwise, the fresh minty taste will soon give way to even more fuzzy plaque on your teeth. Chewing gum containing xylitol can also help fight decay.

Oral spray

oral spray
Dry mouth sprays can help

Another easy way to fix bad breath on-the-go is with a breath spray. This provides an instant fix of freshness; especially handy when chewing gum isn't appropriate.

Look for a spray that actively works to destroy the causes of bad breath and serve as a bad breath cure, rather than just masking the smell. Biotene Dry Mouth Moisturizing spray is a popular choice—it's sugar-free and meant to relieve dry mouth.

Home remedies for bad breath

Want to know how to fix bad breath at home? You don't even have to go to the store to find effective treatments. Staying hydrated with water is arguably one of the best things you can do, but there are other bad breath remedies that you can try at home that are worth noting. Try one of these natural remedies for bad breath at home and see if it makes a difference:

Apple cider vinegar

If you're wondering how to prevent bad breath naturally, look no further than your pantry. Apple cider vinegar features many bacteria-fighting properties, even some that can kill the strep virus. Well, these antibacterial properties also kill off the bacteria that can cause breath to smell bad. To use apple cider vinegar for bad breath, simply mix it with a bit of warm water and use it as a daily mouthwash for halitosis.

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil has long been used to cure many ailments, and now you can use tea tree oil for bad breath too! This can be an effective cure for halitosis because it helps fight against odor-causing bacteria and microbes. This halitosis home remedy can be easily added to your oral hygiene routine by mixing a few drops of tea tree oil to your toothpaste, or brushing with tea tree oil alone.

Cinnamon is another essential oil for bad breath that you may want to try.

Vitamins and supplements for bad breath

Vitamins for bad breath may be a solution for you as well. Sometimes smelly breath is caused by a deficiency in vitamins. Ask your doctor about your problem—they may run a test to see if you are deficient for any vitamins, most commonly A, B, C and E as deficiencies in these vitamans can cause bad breath.

Have a look at the following table for a look at some of the other common natural remedies for bad breath.

Home remedy How it works
Parsley Chew on it after eating to release chlorophyll which neutralizes odors.
Green tea and mint tea Temporarily disinfects the mouth and freshens breath.
Fennel Antibacterial and increases saliva production. Chew it or make a tea.
Probiotic yoghurt Fights bacteria in the mouth. Eat around 7 oz a day for best effects.
Baking soda mouthwash Antibacterial. Dissolve 2 teaspoons of baking soda in a glass of warm water, swish around for 30 seconds, and spit.

How to cure bad breath permanently

If you're wondering how to get rid of bad breath permanently, sometimes, all it takes to stop bad breath is a few lifestyle changes.

Tongue Scraper
A tongue scraper can help stop bad breath

An improved oral hygiene routine might be enough to cure halitosis. This is maybe one of the simplest bad breath remedies, and means brushing twice daily (one of those times being before bed) and flossing once a day. A tongue scraper can help keep the tongue free from excess bacteria, too, one of the most common halitosis causes. Read more about the correct routine and technique in our guide to brushing teeth properly.

Be sure to visit your dentist for regular checkups as well. They may recommend a scale and polish to remove plaque and tartar, leaving teeth completely clean and serving as a halitosis cure.

You can also avoid the foods and drinks mentioned above which are common causes of bad breath and may be a good halitosis cure.

If you know that you suffer from dry mouth, make an effort to stay hydrated during the day. You can also take an over-the-counter moisturizing product to stop your mouth from getting too dry.

Finally, if you smoke, the best thing is to quit. Even if you use e-cigarettes that don't have a bad smell, the nicotine in them inhibits saliva production, thereby contributing indirectly to halitosis. So quitting smoking may be one of the most obvious bad breath remedies for you.

Treatment for chronic symptoms

Trouble finding a halitosis cure? If you have tried all of the above bad breath cures and don't notice a difference, you may need to seek medical treatment for chronic bad breath.

The first stop on the path to figuring out how to treat halitosis, or chronic bad breath, should be your dentist. Fixing any underlying oral health problems like gum disease, cavities, and ill-fitting dentures might just be a halitosis cure. Bad breath treatment may include teeth cleaning, fillings, extractions and new dentures, much of which should be partially covered by dental insurance.

It's possible for oral malodor to be caused by an overgrowth of healthy bacteria, as this dentist discusses.

If your dentist can't identify any causes in your mouth, he might refer you to a GP for further medical checks. Then, the matter of how to treat your chronic bad breath will depend on the cause that is ultimately identified.


Whether you're wondering how to cure bad breath quickly. or looking for a longer-term treatment for halitosis, the answer more than likely lies in your oral hygiene. While there are various quick fixes like mouthwash and breath spray that will get rid of your symptoms temporarily, better dental health is the best way to stop it for good.

You might also need a dental checkup to treat triggers like tartar buildup, tooth decay and gum disease. In rarer cases, the cure for bad breath might involve treating another health problem like diabetes or acid reflux.


Causes of halitosis
There are many potential causes

Why do I have bad breath?

So what causes halitosis? It might be because of something you ate, because you're not brushing your teeth well enough, or because of some underlying cause that requires further treatment. If this is the case, your best bet for a bad breath cure maybe be better oral hygiene, or you may need to consult a dentist.

What causes bad breath even after brushing?

Wondering how to get rid of halitosis even if you brush and floss twice a day? If you follow a good oral hygiene routine, flossing and brushing daily, there could be another problem or medical condition that's causing your breath to smell bad. Common bad breath causes include cavities and gum disease, while diabetes and various digestive problems can cause bad breath from the stomach.

If you follow good hygiene protocol, and still suffer from this problem, you should consult with your physician to find the source of the odor. It's important to see your doctor, as persistent symptoms can be a sign of the conditions mentioned above, as well as acid reflux, sinus inflammation, chronic dry mouth, and more serious diseases; in fact bad breath and cancer are related on occasion.

Can wisdom teeth cause bad breath?

Decaying and infected wisdom teeth can be causes. Additionally, crooked wisdom teeth are more likely to trap food, which will start to smell if it's not cleaned away.

Is a white tongue linked to symptoms?

Another one of the common halitosis causes is bacteria. Bacteria can build up on the tongue and cause the papillae on the tongue's surface to swell. The result is a white tongue, often accompanied by an unpleasant odor. Causes of white tongue include dry mouth, dehydration, smoking, alcohol, mouth breathing and poor oral hygiene—very similar to the causes of halitosis.

Why does my baby have bad breath?

We often associate babies with that sweet, newborn smell, but babies and bad breath can go hand in hand. That's because babies, just like you, can suffer from sinus infections and colds, all giving your baby bad breath-causing bacteria. Additionally, poor oral hygiene can also lead to your baby struggling with this issue.

Do cavities cause bad breath?

Cavities can indeed cause symptoms, as they give bacteria hard-to-clean hiding places in your mouth. The same goes for deep pockets from gum disease.

What are some natural remedies for bad breath?

Many people who suffer from this problem want to know how to cure halitosis naturally. Fortunately for those looking for a home remedy for bad breath, there are quite a few options out there. Some of the most common natural remedies for bad breath include chewing parsley, drinking green tea or using a baking soda mouthwash. Check out the table above for more information.

wisdom teeth cause bad breath
Wisdom teeth removal may be a trigger

Why do I have bad breath after wisdom teeth removal?

Wisdom teeth don't cause bad breath themselves, but wisdom teeth extraction might. If you're experiencing bad breath after wisdom teeth extraction, accompanied by worsening pain and swelling four to six days after surgery, it could be the sign of an infection. It's important to contact your dentist ASAP so the infection doesn't get worse.

Wisdom teeth removal may cause bad breath if you have dry socket as well. Dry socket is relatively common following extraction. After wisdom teeth removal you may experience smelly breath, increasing pain and a foul taste. You must contact your dentist if you experience these symptoms.

What causes bad breath from the stomach?

Bad breath from the stomach can be caused by a number of factors including reflux, kidney disease and ulcers. You should make sure to see your doctor if you have chronic halitosis from the stomach.

Halitosis: What Are the Causes of Bad Breath and How To Get Rid of It?
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Amanda Napitu
Amanda Napitu
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Amanda specialises in writing informative content about dentistry. She has been a regular contributor to Dentaly.org since 2017.
American Dental Association: Halitosis. Consulted 18th October 2019. NCBI: Halitosis: From diagnosis to management. Consulted 18th October 2019. Mayo Clinic: White tongue. Consulted 18th October 2019. JOCPD: Effect of Probiotic Yogurt and Xylitol-Containing Chewing Gums on Salivary S Mutans Count. Consulted 18th October 2019. MouthHealthy: TheraBreath Fresh Breath Oral Rinse (Mild Mint and Invigorating Icy Mint). Consulted 18th October 2019. NCBI: Pregnancy and olfaction: a review. Consulted 18th October 2019. NCBI: Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Consulted 18th October 2019. Mayo Clinic: Bad breath. Consulted 18th October 2019. Smithsonianmag.com: Your Breath Does More Than Repulse—It Can Also Tell Doctors Whether You Have Cancer. Consulted 18th October 2019.