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What is halitosis?

Halitosis is the term for bad breath. Bad breath can have many causes, and could be the sign of an underlying problem.


What causes bad breath?

Most bad breath (also called halitosis) comes from something in your mouth. Food sticks between your teeth, around the gums and on your tongue. If you don’t brush and floss your teeth every day, this food can rot. The rotten bits of food cause a bad smell in your mouth. Rotten food also helps bacteria grow in your mouth. These bacteria can cause gum disease (also called gingivitis). Gingivitis also causes bad breath.

The things you eat and drink can also affect your breath. Common examples of foods and beverages that may cause bad breath include onions, garlic, cheese, pastrami, certain spices, orange juice and soda. Once these foods are digested, their oils are absorbed into your bloodstream and carried into the lungs. The odor is given off in your breath until all of the food is out of your body.

Bad breath may also be a sign of a health problem. Sinus infections, chronic lung infections, liver or kidney diseases, and diabetes are some health conditions that may cause bad breath.


What can I do to prevent bad breath?

  • Brush your teeth at least 2 times every day, using a fluoride toothpaste. Be sure to brush along the gumline, as well as all tooth surfaces. Each time you brush your teeth, use your toothbrush to clean the surface of your tongue.
  • Floss your teeth at least once a day to remove food from between your teeth.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables every day. Eat less meat.
  • Avoid foods that cause you to have bad breath. Also try to avoid alcoholic beverages, which often cause bad breath.
  • Avoid using tobacco products. Any kind of tobacco can cause halitosis.
  • Sometimes a dry mouth has an unpleasant smell. If your mouth is dry, you can suck on sugar-free mints, chew sugar-free gum or drink more water.
  • Most mouthwashes do not have a long-lasting effect on bad breath. If you use a mouthwash, swish it around in your mouth for 30 seconds before spitting it out.
  • If you wear removable dentures, take them out at night. Brush the dentures and soak them overnight in a disinfecting solution. Removable braces and retainers should also be cleaned. Follow the directions of your dentist.
  • See your dentist twice a year to have your teeth cleaned.

If you can’t get rid of bad breath on your own, see your family doctor to find out if a more serious problem is causing it.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • What is causing my bad breath?
  • Do I need to change my toothpaste?
  • Could chewing tobacco cause bad breath?
  • How often should I see my dentist?
  • Is there a mouthwash that might help?
  • If I can’t get rid of my bad breath, what steps do we take to figure out what’s wrong?
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