Sometimes called halitosis, bad breath is usually caused by poor oral hygiene habits, infections that occur in the mouth, unhealthy habits, such as smoking and alcohol intake, and foods that you eat. Other culprits include dry mouth, respiratory tract infections, systemic diseases such as diabetes, kidney, liver and lung disease and gastrointestinal issues, which may include acid reflux and other stomach digestion problems.

Signs & Symptoms

Bad breath odors vary, depending on the source or the underlying cause. Some people worry too much about their breath, even though they have little or no mouth odor, while others have bad breath and don’t know it. The underlying symptoms can be poor oral hygiene caused by the dental plaque, food debris and development of gingivitis. Because it’s difficult to assess how your own breath smells, try to smell your breath by placing your hand over your nose and mouth and breath, ask a relative, and consider seeing a dental professional to confirm if bad breath is an issue for you and to ask how to treat it.

Cause

Coffee and Cigarettes:

If you notice that your breath seems stale after your morning break, it could be the result of your daily rituals. Both coffee and cigarettes are known causes of bad breath. The actual smells introduced to your mouth from coffee and cigarettes can cause unpleasant odors. Cigarettes also encourage the growth of foul-smelling bacteria in your mouth.

Dental Issues:

Has it been awhile since your last visit to the dentist? Your bad breath may be caused by dental health issues, not by stinky food. When you suffer from problems such as an abscessed tooth, gum disease, cavities and bad oral hygiene, your breath may be the first symptom you notice. That’s because dental issues usually involve unpleasant-smelling bacteria that affect your teeth and gums. That’s also why it’s important to brush twice daily with an oral health product such as Colgate Total Advanced Deep Clean toothpaste. Regular checkups also help. They allow your dentist to address possible problems before they become serious issues.

Throat and Sinus Infections:

If you’ve had a bad cold or sinusitis recently, your breath could suffer. According to MedlinePlus, certain viruses can cause infection in the throat and sinuses. The infection could lead to a foul smell from the throat, which is often mistaken for typical bad breath. If you have bad breath accompanied by a sore throat, swollen tonsils or phlegm and discharge from the throat or sinuses, see your doctor. You may need antibiotics instead of mouthwash.

Digestive Problems:

When a hamburger or spicy foods leave you up all night with heartburn, it could be one of the causes of bad breath as well. Typically, your stomach acids help break down food and push it through your intestines. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse states that gastroesophageal reflux (GER) occurs when your stomach contents flow back up into your esophagus. Not only is it painful, but it can cause a smelly gas to come out of your mouth: Bad breath. Your doctor can talk to you about GER management and medications to help control your symptoms.

Food Particles:

Food particles — such as those left over from the fish or garlic bread you just ate — can lead to bad breath. Food particles may become wedged between teeth and gums and leave behind an odor after you’ve finished eating. Chewing sugarless gum, sucking on a sugarless mint and using a disposable brush such as Colgate Wisp can rid your mouth of particles and give you fresh breath on the go.

Bad breath can affect anyone, anywhere. Understanding the causes of that smell will help you make lifestyle and behavioral changes that will banish bad breath once and for all.

Diagnosis

Determining the cause of bad breath can be tricky without the help of a healthcare professional, because there are so many possibilities of what may be causing it. So make an appointment with your dentist, who can give you a diagnosis and refer you to your family physician or another medical professional, if necessary.

Prevention

Tongue Brushing Techniques:

After you have given your teeth a good brushing, focus on your tongue. It is simple enough to use the bristles of your toothbrush. You can also try a specialized brush with a built-in tongue cleaner on the back of the head, such as the Colgate 360 toothbrush.

The tongue harbors bacteria and food particles trapped under a thin layer of mucus. Remove this odor-causing buildup by using a small dab of toothpaste and carefully brushing the top of the tongue. Start by reaching to the back of the tongue, and then work forward toward the opening of the mouth. Brush the entire top surface of the tongue using gentle pressure, and finish by rinsing with water.

Using a Tongue Scraper:

For a more thorough cleaning, use a tongue scraper. This tool is usually made of soft, flexible plastic and gently peels the thin mucus-based layer of debris from the tongue. Rinse the scraper under warm water after each swipe of the tongue.

If your tongue feels sore or begins to bleed, you are using the tongue scraper with too much force. Work slowly and with light pressure. Concentrate on the center of the tongue where the bulk of odor-causing bacteria lies.

How Often to Clean Your Tongue:

Each time you brush and floss your teeth, finish your dental care routine with a tongue cleaning. At a minimum, clean your tongue once in the morning and once in the evening before bedtime. If you have dry mouth or notice a foul taste in your mouth midday, try cleaning your tongue to remedy the situation.

A mouthwash rinse used after cleaning your tongue moisturizes the mouth and kills additional bacteria. Remember, maintaining fresh breath goes beyond routine tooth brushing. Getting into the habit of giving your tongue adequate attention will help keep your breath neutral and fresh.

Treatment

Always make sure you’re practicing great oral care habits. Brushing twice a day and flossing daily will help to control plaque development and use of a tongue scraper will help control odor causing bacteria that form on the tongue. Use of floss is important to keep the spaces in between your teeth clean. Regular dental visits twice a year for a check-up and professional cleaning are also excellent steps.