What Causes Bad Breath? (Halitosis)

What Causes Bad Breath? (Halitosis)


Let’s take a few minutes to talk about the causes of bad breath. Just so you know, the technical term, halotosis, simply means bad breath. This is derived from the latin word ‘halitus’ meaning ‘breath or exhalation; and the greek suffix ‘-osis’ meaning a ‘process or condition’.

One quick point before getting started.

Saliva is important to the hygiene in our mouth. It contains enzymes that help breakdown food and maintain the acid-base balance of your mouth, both of which blunt the growth potential of bacteria. It has antibacterial properties as well, including compounds such as IgA (an antibody that plays a critical role in immunity), lactoferrin, lysozyme and peroxidase. These are essential to our oral hygiene, and ultimately to our whole body health as well.

On to the causes of bad breath...

Poor dental hygiene.

The most common cause of bad breath is poor dental hygiene. If you don’t brush and floss your teeth regularly, meaning 2-3 times a day, food particles and bacteria can build up. This bacteria can thrive around your teeth, tongue and gums leading to plaque buildup. Over a period of time, sometimes as fast as overnight or subsequent days, your breath will get worse.

Continued neglect can lead to other conditions in your mouth including dental cavities (caries), gum disease (gingivitis) or around your teeth (periodontitis). Unfortunately, these issues if left untreated can cause problems much worse than bad breath.


Eating certain foods can either release their own foul odor and/or promote certain bacteria that do the same thing. This includes but is not limited to fish, cheeses, onions, garlic, other vegetables and spices.

You may have heard of the ketogenic diet, which is essential a low carb diet. If your body is in a significantly ketotic state, that is to say you are relying primarily on body fat for energy, it can actually cause your breath to smell fruity, which is commonly known as ‘ketotic breath’.


Smoking and chewing tobacco, and frankly any tobacco products, can cause bad breath. Not only will they cause your breath to smell bad, they will stain your teeth, irritate and erode your gums and increase your risk for gum disease and oral cancer, among many other types of cancer.

Dry Mouth

The condition where your mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva and can lead to dry mouth. This process is known as xerostomia. Saliva helps clean your mouth, and the lack of saliva can foster an environment for bacteria to grow. Causes of dry mouth include dehydration, certain illnesses (sjogren syndrome), medications or excessive breathing through your mouth.

This is why when you wake up in the morning you have a dry mouth and “morning breath”, because you have an overgrowth of bacteria from the decrease in saliva production.

Other dental and medical causes of bad breath

  • Dental cavities: Also known as dental caries, provide a place inside your tooth where bacteria can flourish.
  • Poorly fitting dentures
  • Braces
  • Tonsil Stones: Also known as tonsilloliths can be impacted in the tonsils in the back of your mouth and be very foul smelling.
  • Post surgical infections after dental surgery or oralmaxillofacial surgery

Medical conditions

  • Upper respiratory tract infections (acute and chronic sinus infections, thrush)
  • Lower respiratory tract infections (bronchitis, pneumonia)
  • Diabetes
  • Acid reflux
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Certain liver and kidney disease

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