How to Handle Bad Breath

While bad breath, or halitosis, may indicate a more serious health problem, it's often triggered by factors we can easily control.

Here, five common culprits of halitosis.

1. Food. Some foods, such as onions, garlic, cheese, pastrami, orange juice, soda, sugar, caffeine, and certain spices release oils. They are absorbed into the bloodstream, travel to the lungs and produce unpleasant odors when we breathe. Furthermore, if we don't thoroughly clean away bits of food left in our mouth, they can rot, facilitating the growth of bacteria that leads to bad breath.

2. Dry mouth. Bad breath is often a symptom of dry mouth (xerostomia), which results from a decrease in saliva production. Saliva helps digest food and repairs and protects teeth. According to Joseph Mercola, MD, more than 400 medications can affect the production of saliva, potentially leading to dry mouth and bad breath. Common drug culprits include those for urinary incontinence, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease.

3. Tobacco. Smoking causes unpleasant mouth odors, and people who smoke are also more likely to have gum disease.

4. Poor dental hygiene. If you don't brush and floss your teeth properly, you won't remove all the food particles stuck in your mouth. This can cause plaque, a colorless, sticky film of bacteria, to form on your teeth and may lead to irritated gums or gum disease, in addition to bad breath.

5. Health conditions. Cancer, metabolic diseases, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sinus infections, chronic lung infections, diabetes, and liver or kidney disease can all contribute to bad breath.

How to Prevent Bad Breath

Maintain good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth at least twice daily, including along the gum line, all surfaces of the teeth, and the tongue. Floss every day. Brush for about two minutes with firm pressure, but not too vigorously. Change your toothbrush every few months when the bristles begin to wear.

Try a natural scrub. Mercola recommends brushing with a 50/50 mixture of unprocessed natural salt and baking soda to really clean your teeth. He also suggests using a waterpik to help remove food particles.

Watch your diet. Avoid foods, such as sugar, processed foods, and caffeine, that contribute to bad breath, and eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Drink lots of water and make sure your diet includes healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids.

Keep a quick fix handy. When bad breath strikes, try chewing gum or sucking on hard candies (sugarless only!) to stimulate saliva production. If bad breath persists, see your dentist or physician to rule out any underlying conditions or problematic medications.

Allison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, reviewed this article.



"Bad Breath," Mayo Clinic, December 18, 2012, accessed October 8, 2013.

"Breath Odor," Medline Plus, February 22, 2013, accessed October 8, 2013.

"Halitosis," American Academy of Family Physicians, accessed October 8, 2013.

Joseph, Mercola, MD, "How to Lick Bad Breath Fast--as Easy as 1, 2, 3..."January 12, 2010, accessed October 8, 2013.