Fighting bad breath
A young woman, covering her mouth with one hand, as she realizes she may have bad breath.

Do people take a step back when you’re speaking? Do friends, family and co-workers constantly offer you gum or breath mints? If so, you could be suffering from chronic bad breath—halitosis—and not even know it!


Bad breath is commonly caused by the millions of bacteria that live in your mouth, especially on the tongue and gums. Other causes of bad breath include:

  • Certain foods and drinks, such as garlic, coffee or onions.
  • Lack of, or improper, brushing and flossing: food particles remain in the mouth and decay, producing odor.
  • Dry mouth from medications, salivary gland problems, breathing from the mouth, or even dieting; saliva is necessary to cleanse the mouth of food particles and bacteria that cause odor.
  • Tobacco products.
  • Periodontal (gum) disease.
  • Medical conditions: diabetes; kidney, liver, lung, sinus or reflux disease.

Most types of periodic bad breath aren’t cause for concern. In most cases, your dentist can treat the cause. If your dentist determines the problem isn’t related to oral health, you may be referred to your family doctor or a specialist to determine the source of the odor and how to treat it.

Tips to improve bad breath

Practicing good oral care is often all it takes to keep odor-causing bacteria at bay.

  • Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove food debris and plaque—brush after eating (keep a toothbrush at work or school to brush after lunch). Don’t forget to brush the tongue, too. Replace your toothbrush every two to three months or after an illness.
  • Use floss or an interdental cleaner to remove food particles and plaque between teeth at least once a day.
  • Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash twice a day.
  • Remove dentures at night and clean them thoroughly before putting them in the next morning.

Lifestyle changes can also help you beat bad breath:

  • Stop smoking and chewing tobacco-based products.
  • Drink lots of water to keep your mouth moist.
  • Chewing gum (preferably sugarless) or sucking on candy (preferably sugarless) also stimulates saliva production, which helps wash away food particles and bacteria. Gums and mints containing xylitol are best.

Keep a log of the foods you eat if you think they may be causing bad breath. Also, make a list of the medications you take, as some may play a role in creating mouth odors.

And don’t forget to see your dentist regularly—at least twice a year. They can detect and treat periodontal disease, dry mouth or other oral health issues that can cause bad breath. A professional teeth cleaning will remove the buildup of plaque and bacteria that cause odor.