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Bad breath or “halitosis” can affect most us now and then, but for most people it’s temporary. Read up on some of the causes, symptoms, and tips to avoiding bad breath.

Bad breath (or “halitosis” if you’re feeling fancy) can affect most us now and then. We’re certainly not going to pretend our own breath is minty fresh when we wake up in the morning.

But a lot of bad breath is temporary. When bad breath is persistent, it might be a sign of a health problem.

If you’re concerned about bad breath, whether your own or a family member’s, consider speaking with a dental professional or scheduling a check-up. Find a dental clinic near you.

What causes bad breath?

A lot of bad breath in children and adults is caused by bacteria in the mouth that can build up on the tongue and in the throat. These bacteria feed on leftover bits of food you haven't washed away and release gases containing sulphur. Sometimes, this doesn’t smell great.

But sometimes you can have bad breath despite practicing good oral hygiene. If you’re regularly brushing, flossing and staying hydrated, but are still experiencing bad breath, it’s possible that a health problem is at play.

A variety of issues can contribute to bad breath, including:

  • poor oral hygiene
  • eating strong-smelling foods such as garlic and onions
  • smoking
  • acid reflux
  • oral health problems such as gum disease or dry mouth syndrome
  • sinus problems
  • medical conditions such as kidney failure.
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What are the other symptoms of halitosis?

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to judge our own breath! There are a few other things to notice if you’re worried about persistent bad breath:

  • your mouth and throat feel dry
  • there's a sour or bitter taste in your mouth
  • your tongue looks white at the back
  • your saliva is thicker than it normally is
  • your nose drips more
  • you need to clear your throat more often.

Consider seeing a dentist or doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms like these. A healthcare professional may be able to help you understand if there’s a problem and any options for addressing it.

Is bad breath contagious? 

Halitosis isn’t contagious. If bacteria in the mouth is causing bad breath, this won’t usually be passed from person to person.

The only way to pass something to another person is to pass on an underlying cause of bad breath ⁠— a viral infection, for instance. But you’re not passing on the bad breath itself, and not everyone experiences the same symptoms even if you do end up giving someone your chest cold.

How to avoid bad breath

In many cases, you can improve your breath by improving your oral hygiene. This may help reduce the amount of bacteria and leftover food in your mouth, as well as lower your risk of dental problems that might contribute to bad breath.

Brush and floss your teeth

Brush your teeth at least twice a day, preferably in the morning and evening. You shouldn't brush your teeth immediately after eating because this can damage the enamel. Instead, try to rinse your mouth with water after eating and then wait 30-60 minutes before you brush. Read more about proper brushing and flossing routines.

Brush your tongue

If you don't already clean your tongue when you brush your teeth, this could make a big difference to removing bacteria and freshening your breath.

Some toothbrushes have a tongue cleaner on the opposite side of the head to the bristles, or you can buy a specialised tongue scraper. Try to reach as far back on your tongue as you comfortably can and brush from the back to the front.

Stay hydrated

Rinsing your mouth helps to wash away bacteria and can prevent it from building up. Your saliva does this naturally but drinking water throughout the day can help — especially straight after you’ve eaten.

Avoid sources of odours

Some foods or beverages can take a bigger toll on your breath than others. This can differ from person to person, but garlic, coffee, onion, spicy foods and tuna are common culprits. While it’s wise to limit your coffee intake for other health-related reasons, some of those foods or spices can still be healthy additions to your diet. Just limit them when you’re trying to keep your breath fresh or rinse your mouth with water after you finish eating them.

Smoking tobacco puts your health at risk but may also cause bad breath. The scent of smoke can linger in your mouth and on your breath for hours afterwards because it's still inside the lungs. Aside from a wide range of important health benefits, quitting smoking may help freshen your breath, too!

Can a dentist help with bad breath?

A dentist may be able to help you understand the cause of bad breath. Plus, a professional cleaning can help remove the debris, plaque or tartar that may be contributing to odour.

You can also ask a dentist for any remedies that are right for you. For instance, they might recommend a certain kind of mouthwash to help keep your breath fresher.

There's no single treatment for halitosis. When you visit your dentist for a check-up, they'll examine your mouth and throat and try to pinpoint what's causing bad breath.

Want to speak with a dental professional about bad breath or other dental concerns? 

Find a dental clinic near you.

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The purpose of this article is to promote better understanding of dental health topics. It’s not meant to replace professional advice or diagnosis. Always talk to a dentist, doctor or other qualified healthcare professional if you have a question about dental or medical conditions.

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