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Bad breath is sometimes referred to its medical name halitosis or fetor oris. It is a condition wherein a persistent and unpleasant odour is present in exhaled breath.

What is Halitosis?

bad breath

Halitosis is quite common and almost anyone can suffer from this condition. Studies show that an estimate of 1 out of 4 people experiences halitosis on a daily average.

If not attended to immediately, it can even lead to embarrassment and anxiety. It is a relief to know that halitosis is relatively easy to cure.

Read on to know more about halitosis, its causes, symptoms, and currently available treatments to address this condition.

What Are the Causes of Bad Breath?

According to research, the most common cause of halitosis is poor oral hygiene. Other potential causes of this condition may include any of the following:

Aspiration pneumonia

This is considered a rare cause of halitosis. It occurs when there is an infection in the lungs.

This infection causes swellings of the airways. It can come from inhaling food, liquids, saliva, or even vomit.

Bowel obstruction

Another rarer cause of bad breath is bowel obstruction. If there is a prolonged period of vomiting, the breath can smell bad. In cases when the cause of vomiting is the presence of bowel obstruction, the breath can even smell like feces.


Also, a rare cause of halitosis is the condition called bronchiectasis. It occurs when the airways become wider than normal. When this happens, mucus is allowed to build-up which leads to halitosis.

Crash diets

When we practice certain diets, chances of having a bad breath increases. Crash diets such as intermittent fasting or low-carbohydrate eating programs are some of the examples that can cause halitosis. What happens in these diets?

These diet programs cause a fast breakdown of chemicals that produces fats called ketones. Ketones have quite a strong aroma that causes halitosis.

Dental hygiene practices

dental hygiene

When we do not correctly brush our teeth or practice flossing on a daily basis, this causes problems with our breath. What happens if brushing and flossing are not regular? This causes a film of bacteria to build up.

This film of bacteria is called plaque. It can irritate gums and lead to periodontitis. Periodontitis is the inflammation between teeth and gums. All of these will result in having issues with our breath.

Another important dental hygiene practice is the proper cleaning of dentures. When not cleaned correctly and regularly, this can harbour bacteria in the mouth. If this happens, halitosis develops inside the mouth.


GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease also cause halitosis. This is due to the regular and consistent reflux of stomach acids.

Other diseases such as some cancers, metabolic disease and even liver failure cause halitosis. This is brought about by the specific mixes of chemicals that these diseases produce.


Drugs absorbed in the body can produce odours. This happens when it breakdowns and releases chemicals in our breath. Some medications are known for reducing saliva production which then increases odour.

Examples of drugs include chemotherapy chemicals, tranquillizers and nitrates. People who also take large doses of various vitamin supplements can be prone to halitosis.

Dry mouth

dry mouth syndrome

Otherwise known as xerostomia, having a dry mouth can cause odours to build up and cause halitosis.

Foreign bodies

In children, accidentally having a foreign body inside the nasal cavity can cause bad breath.


Ketoacidoses is another rare cause of halitosis. It is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. This condition causes the production of ketones.

Ketones in large numbers inside the body can be poisonous. It also produces a distinct and unpleasant odour in the mouth.

Other conditions

Having a nose, mouth and throat conditions could be another cause of halitosis. In such cases, small and bacteria-covered stones can form on tonsils and produce odour. Infections of the nose, sinuses and the throat also lead to problems with how the breath smells.

Presence of food

When we eat, food is broken down inside the mouth. The process of breaking down these food particles that are stuck in the teeth causes odour.

Certain foods like garlic and onions can also cause our breath to go bad. When digested, broken down particles of these foods are carried in the blood to the lungs. This is where it can affect the smell of our breath.

Use of tobacco

Vices and addiction to certain products like tobacco can cause halitosis. Excessive smoking, as well as chewing tobacco-based products leads to bad breath. It can also stain teeth and irritate the gums of your mouth.

In extreme cases, it can likewise affect the overall function of the mouth by reducing its ability to taste the food.

What Are Its Symptoms?

In most cases, it is the reaction of other people around you that helps determine if you have bad breath or not. When people start giving you larger than normal personal space when talking, that could be one indication that you have a problem with your breath.

There are also other symptoms of halitosis such as:

  • a white coating on the tongue
  • any changes in your sense of taste
  • thick saliva
  • a constant need to clear the throat
  • persistent metallic and a sour taste in the mouth
  • burning tongue

How to Treat Bad Breath?

Sometimes, something as simple as a lifestyle change can cure bad breath. If you try and avoid smoking tobacco, eating onions, garlic and spicy foods, this could help address the problem.

In cases when this is not enough, other methods can be used to treat this condition. One is to correctly brush the teeth at least twice a day. Flossing daily and consistently also helps.

Brushing the tongue and making sure that your dentures are clean can also help eliminate odour.

Good oral hygiene can combat most causes of bad breath. Also, a visit to your dentist at least twice a year can keep your teeth and gums healthy.