Causes of bad breath and how to get rid of it

If you’re reading this article, chances are you or someone you know is dealing with bad breath. You will want to know the causes of bad breath and, most importantly, how to get rid of it.

Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is embarrassing and can affect your personal and professional relationships. Even thinking you “might” have bad breath is reason enough not to venture further than the front door. It can be a huge concern, leaving more than a dirty taste in your mouth.

Here I explore the common causes of bad breath and provide practical tips to help eliminate it, including some unusual suggestions you may have yet to try.

So, whether you’re dealing with chronic bad breath or just the occasional morning breath, keep reading to learn more.

What causes bad breath

Let’s start at the very beginning and look at the causes of bad breath. Simply knowing the reason, may be enough for you to eliminate your problem and give you the confidence to breathe freely again.

Poor oral hygiene

We all know we should clean our teeth for two minutes twice a day. But do you? And when was the last time you used the floss that’s been lying in the back of your bathroom drawer untouched for several months?

If you’re not cleaning your teeth and flossing adequately, you could have bad breath.

Certain foods and drinks

Certain food items can cause your breath to smell unpleasant.

There is an obvious reason we avoid eating foods with lots of garlic or onion when we are on a date. Did you know that these two yummy ingredients do not only leave a strong smell in your mouth but their sulphuric mark trails into your blood and eventually into your lungs, making that garlic/onion smell linger in your breath?

Dairy and fish can also cause bad breath by feeding the bacteria in your mouth and through oxidisation.


Smoking poses so many risks and damaging effects. It is no surprise that it causes bad breath.

The smell of a fresh tobacco leaf may smell sweet and inviting to some, but there are very few smells more disgusting than the smell of old cigarettes mixed with saliva and tar-stained lungs and teeth.

Aside from leaving unwanted chemical elements that mix with your saliva and cause bad breath, smoking also means you always have traces of cigarette smoke lingering in your lungs and throat causing you to have the dreaded smoker’s breath.

By the way, it doesn’t matter whether you smoke old-school cigarettes or these cool-looking vape pens; they all make your breath smell rank.

Dry mouth

The condition of having a dry mouth or xerostomia (slow and low production of saliva) is one of the causes of bad breath.

Your saliva is in charge of regularly flushing away food particles and bacteria, helping your mouth to stay relatively clean and smell acceptably healthy.

When you run low on saliva due to stress, anxiety, diabetes, hormonal issues, other illnesses, or even just sleeping with your mouth open, you can develop bad breath because the bacteria in your mouth and throat build up. This can develop into much bigger health issues like tooth decay and mouth sores.

Gum disease

Gingivitis is one of the leading causes of bad breath. Having plaqued gums means they are lined with plaque bacteria that is behind the awful smell of halitosis.

At the first sign of gum trouble, it is important to have yourself checked by a reputable dentist who can help you with a thorough cleaning and a few prescribed medications.

Some medical conditions can be causes of bad breath

Certain medical conditions can contribute to bad breath.

This can be due to factors such as:

  • Use of some medication
  • Salivary gland problems
  • Breathing through the mouth
  • Reduced saliva production

Additionally, respiratory infections, sinus conditions, and post-nasal drip can produce foul-smelling breath. In some cases, gastrointestinal issues like acid reflux, gastritis, or liver disease can cause bad breath due to the release of unpleasant-smelling gases. 

Having bad breath does not necessarily mean you have a serious medical condition but if you have a concern, book an appointment with your GP.

How to tell if you have bad breath

It can be difficult to tell if you have bad breath because our noses become accustomed to our scent. Bad breath is essentially an imbalance of sulphides in your breath but how the hell can we measure this? If you are unsure, here are some things you can try.

Ask someone

It’s highly embarrassing, but asking someone is an absolute surefire way to know if you have bad breath.

I ask my kids since they never mind my feelings and are always honest! You could ask a family member, friend, or a close colleague at work. Or, if you’re not comfortable with asking anyone, book a dentist appointment and ask there.

The lick test

Bear with me and don’t mind if you look foolish; just do this in the privacy of your home.

Lick the inside of your wrists and let the saliva dry. After it dries, take a sniff. If it smells bad, chances are, your breath smells horrible too.

Check your tongue

If your tongue looks more white than pink, there is a high chance that your breath is not smelling that great.

Your tongue needs some good scraping and cleaning as it has become white due to the build-up of dirt and food, feeding bad breath-causing bacteria on its surface.

Smell your floss

Another quick test is to floss in between your two front teeth and smell the floss. If it smells particularly rotten, it’s time for you to brush, floss, brush, and mouthwash, before setting an appointment with your dentist for that check-up.

How to get rid of bad breath

Now let’s look at ways to hit that halitosis on the head once and for all. Try one or a combination of the below to see what works for you.

Brush and floss regularly

I mentioned it earlier … you must clean your teeth for two minutes twice a day at the very least. You should also floss daily.

Get into a healthy routine and use a timer or your phone to make sure you clean for the whole two minutes instead of guessing it at just 30 seconds!

Clean your tongue

Your tongue can be a nasty, perpetually moist, and warm environment for bad breath-causing bacteria to proliferate faster than you expect.

That is why it is highly advisable to also clean your tongue as often as your own teeth. Scrape that white stuff away with toothpaste/antibacterial mouthwash and tongue cleaner (or your toothbrush if you don’t have a tongue cleaner).

Use mouthwash (or cider vinegar)

Mouthwash can reach corners of your mouth that your toothbrush won’t go into.

There is a huge variety of mouthwash now available in the market to address your specific needs. Whether you need a strong peppermint antibacterial wash or a much gentler mouthwash that doesn’t dry your mouth even more, there is a mouthwash for you out there to complement your brushing.

Drink plenty of water

Plenty of water keeps your body AND mouth hydrated and your saliva constantly replenishing. Regular and watery spit means having fewer bacteria breeding action and fewer chances to develop halitosis. So don’t forget to drink your 8-10 glasses of water daily!

Drink green tea

Antioxidants in green tea fight off multiple causes of bad breath.

Aside from antioxidants and the obvious hydration part of drinking cups of green tea, this beverage also contains polyphenols that reduce sulphur compounds in various foods … which as I explained earlier, can be the root cause of your bad breath.

Chew sugarless gum

Chewing encourages your mouth to produce more saliva. And sugar feeds the bacteria that multiply and cause bad breath.

To address the dryness of the mouth without having to help halitosis-causing bacteria to flourish, you could try chewing on sugarless gum.

Avoid certain foods and drinks

Avoid eating garlic or onion-rich foods and dairy products if you are far from your toothbrush or mouthwash. Too many spices, sweets, and seafood can also make your breath smell funny.

Stick to less stinky foods and drinks especially when you are out and socialising.

Eat foods with live cultures

Aside from helping maintain your mouth and gut’s fungal-bacterial balance, probiotics keep odour-causing compounds low.

For this reason, probiotics are a superfood considered by holistic health advocates as a natural deodoriser, not only for your breath but for other body openings and membranes too.

Chew on breath-freshening herbs

Fresh herbs can help with bad breath because they contain natural deodorisers, antimicrobial properties, stimulate saliva production, and have aromatic volatile oils.

The best herbs to chow down on are:

  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Cilantro (coriander)

Using herbs in teas or as garnishes in meals also helps. 

Have regular dentist check-ups and cleans

Bad breath is one of the top symptoms and complaints that dentists address in Australia.

From mouth dryness to hidden tooth cavities, your dentist can diagnose and help treat the reason for your bad breath. Regular checkups and cleanings work as both preventative and corrective maintenance for your whole mouth, including the prevention of smelly breath.

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