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Bad breath: the main culprits

11/02/2016 Debra Waters
© Creative Commons/Sugarland Dental Spa

Bad breath, or halitosis, is an embarrassing condition. It’s also one of the most common – a quarter of us get it regularly and it can affect us at any time. The good news is that there are ways to treat it.

Dr Mervyn Druian, from The London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry, explains: “There are a few reasons why people may suffer from halitosis; however, over 90% of the circumstances are due to poor oral hygiene and, in more serious cases, gum disease.”

So, how can you tell if you’ve got halitosis? Try licking the inside of your wrist, wait for the saliva to dry then smell it. If there’s an unpleasant aroma, your breath probably smells. Or “if there is any bleeding of gums when brushing teeth there's a very strong chance of bad breath occurring,” says Dr Druian.

© Rex/Serge Pouzet/Sipa

Reasons for bad breath

Poor oral hygiene

The less we brush our teeth and floss the more food stays trapped between our teeth, allowing oral gram-negative anaerobic bacteria (which breaks down food) to build up and release foul-smelling gases.

Food and drink

Strong smelling foods such as garlic and onions are renowned for causing bad breath, whilst coffee and alcohol reduce saliva flow, enabling oral bacteria to hang around longer.


Smoking is a particular offender for a number of reasons: smoke lingers in the lungs and mouth, creating a stale stink associated with smoker’s breath; smoking dries out the mouth so oral bacteria is less likely to be washed away; and cigarette and tobacco smoke contains pungent chemicals that create pungent breath. Smoking also contributes to the build-up of tartar on teeth, which can increase the chances of gum disease.

Gum disease/gingivitis

Gingivitis – a more advanced form of gum disease – is when gums bleed or become infected. If this sounds familiar you’re not alone – it’s thought that more than half of British adults have experienced it.

Dentures, crowns, bridges and fillings

Dentures that aren’t cleaned regularly, cracked fillings or ill-fitting crowns and bridges can all be attributed to bad breath.

Certain diets

Fasting, high protein and low-carb regimes such as the Atkins are notorious for producing this undesirable side effect. These diets cause the body to break down fat quickly, resulting in ketoacidosis that gives breath a fruity, off-putting smell.


Being dehydrated dries out the mouth so there is less moisture to wash away bacteria.


Certain medications bring about halitosis, often because a dry mouth is a side effect. These include tranquilizers, medicines used to treat angina, and chemotherapy drugs.


Gastrointestinal issues such as reflux disease (GORD), and lung, throat, sinus or nose infections, as well as more serious conditions, can be responsible. Dr Druian recommends “a visit to your GP, as the malodour might be a sign of an illness such as heart disease or diabetes.”

© Cultura/Rex

Short-term ways to prevent bad breath

  • Practise good oral hygiene – this includes brushing your teeth for two minutes focusing on where your teeth and gums meet, flossing and tongue scraping
  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration
  • Avoid strong smelling food and drinks such as coffee
  • Chew sugar-free gum after each meal to encourage saliva and help loosen food from teeth and gums
  • Dr Druian advocates using an “alcohol-free mouth rinse such as UltraDEX Daily Oral Rinse or place a cucumber slice on the roof of your mouth for 30 seconds, as the natural phytochemicals will kill the bacteria”.
© I Love Images/Rex

Long-term ways to prevent bad breath

  • Have regular check-ups. Dr Druian explains that dentists will determine whether bad breath is caused by gum disease. If that’s the case he suggests “simple non-surgical treatments such as scaling and root planing (to remove the bacteria and plaque build-up beneath the gum line), or laser gum treatment.”
  • Replace your toothbrush every four months
  • Cut down on sugar, which stimulates oral bacteria
  • Eat vitamin-C rich fruit and vegetables (these include tomatoes, oranges and mangoes) as the vitamin creates an unwelcome environment for bad bacteria
  • Much on raw, crunchy produce such as carrots and apples to remove trapped food from the teeth and increase saliva production
  • According to a small Japanese study, a daily serving of sugar-free probiotic yoghurt has shown to reduce levels of bad bacteria in the mouth
  • Alternatively, an everyday probiotic can replace bad bacteria in your gut or mouth with the good stuff, aiding the elimination of offensive odours
  • Nibble on fresh parsley and fennel seeds, sip on ginger tea, or rinse out your mouth with a solution of warm water and thyme oil
  • Try the ancient Ayurvedic method of oil pulling, which involves swishing oil around the mouth to draw toxins out of the body. Visit to find a practitioner
  • Stop smoking, or use smokers’ mouth freshening products
  • See your doctor if you suspect your medication or an illness is to blame.

More on MSN Health: How to make your teeth look whiter without professional whitening

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