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Causes of Halitosis

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Halitosis or bad breath is a condition that can affect any person of any age, with around a quarter of all individuals suffering from bad breath at some point in their lives. The word halitosis is derived from the Latin word for breath, "halitus." Apart from causing embarrassment and low self esteem, bad breath can be a sign of physical problems such as tooth decay, gum disease or other problems in the body.

Causes of halitosis

There are several causes of bad breath. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Poor oral hygiene: Inadequate cleaning of the mouth, teeth, gums and tongue can allow bacteria to proliferate within the mouth. These bacteria break down small residual pieces of food in the mouth and release unpleasant smelling gases, giving rise to bad breath.
  • Gum disease (gingivitis) and a more severe gum infection called periodontitis.
  • Certain foods including onions, garlic, spices, durian, cabbage, cauliflower and radish.
  • Alcohol consumption, smoking and chewing tobacco.
  • Some drugs and medications.
  • Morning breath or bad breath on waking up in the morning. This is usually short term and not significant. Morning breath results when bacteria accumulate while a person is sleeping, when the saliva flow that helps wash away bacteria is decreased.
  • Starvation.
  • Certain diseases such as liver disease.

Treatment and prevention of bad breath

One of the best ways to treat and prevent bad breath is to improve oral hygiene. This involves:

  • Brushing the teeth and cleaning the gums at least twice a day and using a mouth wash after brushing
  • Rinsing the mouth thoroughly after each meal to remove residual food particles
  • Flossing the teeth at least once a day to clean the areas between the teeth where food can get stuck
  • Cleaning the tongue with a soft bristled brush
  • Consuming less amounts of sugary and sticky foods that tend to stick to the insides of the teeth and mouth

If halitosis is occurring on a regular basis, it needs to be evaluated by a dentist or a dental hygienist.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Oct 15, 2013

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