Bad Breath 101

Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is a term used to describe noticeably unpleasant odors exhaled in breathing. It is one of the most common reasons people go to the dentists, after tooth decay and gum disease. Most of the time, individuals with bad breath are unaware they have it. Even though it is not life threatening, it can be a serious social problem that can damage an individual’s self esteem and confidence, giving rise to depression. Bad breath can cause extremely embarrassing situations in social interactions and relationships at work and in your personal life as well. Individuals who suffer from halitosis tend to avoid interactions for fear of embarrassment and to avoid any awkward interactions.



Put a handkerchief or blow on your palm and smell. If the smell is odorous, you have bad breath. It is also wise to confide in a trusted friend or family member to help make the diagnosis.


-       bad breath smell

-       bad taste or taste changes

-       dry mouth

-       a coating on the tongue



-       Strongly flavoured food (garlic / onions, spices like cumin)

-       Food stagnation between the teeth

-       Dryness of mouth

-       Breathing through the mouth

-       Periodontal disease

-       Dental abscesses

-       Wearing ill-fitting dentures

-       Dentures not cleaned properly

-       Smoking

-       Drugs (e.g. paraldehyde)

-       Diabetes

-       Respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis

-       Tonsil stones

-       Liver or kidney problems

-       Chronic sinus infections

-       Excessive bacterial activity on the tongue, possibly due to postnasal drip (catarrh coming down the back of the throat from the sinuses and nasal passages)

-       Digestive disorders such as chronic acid reflux

-       Constipation

-       Indigestion

-       Acute appendicitis



To get rid of bad breath, it is wise to treat the underlying cause and not just the symptoms.


  1. Practice good oral hygiene

-       Brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste

-       Brush teeth after meals

-       Clean your mouth after eating milk products, fish and meat

-       Replace your toothbrush every two to three months

-       Clean in between the teeth by using dental floss, woodsticks or an interdental brush

-       Use a mouthwash recommended by your dentist. However, it is only a temporary way to mask the odors, not to treat the cause.

-       See your dentist at least twice a year and have your teeth professionally cleaned as required

-       Use a tongue scraper, which helps to remove dead cells, food particles and bacteria from the tongue. A tongue scraper is a special plastic instrument. It is inexpensive and can be found in any drug store. If you cannot get one, just use your toothbrush.


  1. Avoid potent food such as garlic and onions. The strong odors of these foods caused by sulfur compounds are carried through the bloodstream and exhaled by the lungs.
  2. Eat fresh, fibrous fruits and vegetables such as apples, celery and carrots.
  3. Chew sugarless gum or hard candy to stimulate saliva production, which will help neutralize bacterial activity and consequent tooth decay
  4. Avoid too much coffee
  5. Drink lots of water
  6. Stop smoking/chewing tobacco-based products
  7. Dentures should be removed at night and cleaned thoroughly before being placed in your mouth

Traditional home remedies:

  1. Drink tea. Preliminary research suggests that compounds in both green and black tea called polyphenols may stop the growth of bacteria responsible for bad breath. Polyphenols may also prevent existing bacteria from producing malodorous compounds such as hydrogen sulfide.
  2. Drink plenty of fluids. Drinking water and other fluids will help keep your mouth moist. Another reason it may help is because in traditional Chinese medicine, bad breath is often the result of excess heat in the stomach. Water, soup and watery fruits and vegetables, such as cucumber, are thought to help rebalance the body.
  3. According to traditional Chinese medicine, bitter foods, such as Belgian endive and many dark green leafy vegetables are also believed to help stomach heat. Certain foods, such as coffee, alcohol, sugar, milk and fried or spicy foods may aggravate it.
  4. Use herbs to freshen your breath. Chew on a small sprig of fresh rosemary, parsley, spearmint or tarragon for up to a minute.

When to seek medical care?

If good oral hygiene practices do not eliminate the bad breath, see a dental professional. Bad breath in babies or young children may be a sign of infection or undiagnosed medical problems. Consult the child’s doctor or dentist if an infant or young child has bad breath.

An individual should consult their physician if they have:


  • persistent dry mouth
  • sores in the mouth
  • pain with chewing or swallowing
  • white spots on the tonsils
  • fever
  • just started a new medication
  • had recent dental surgery


Specific medical treatment to cure bad breath depends on the cause. In patients who suffer from dry mouth, artificial saliva may be prescribed by a dentist.