Bad breath, do you have it?

Most people are unaware of the fact that they have bad breath, or “halitosis” as dental professionals refer to it. Actually, one in four people have bad breath and some studies have reported that approximately 50 percent of the adult population does have (1). In fact, it is estimated that nearly 60 million people will suffer from chronic halitosis in the United States (2).

Causes of Bad Breath

Bad breath can be caused by external and internal factors. External factors can be the types of foods that we eat such as spicy or odorous in nature (certain spices used in cooking, garlic, onions even tuna or tacos). If you think your bad breath is related to the foods that you are consuming, consider recording the food you are eating to determine if this is the reason. People who use tobacco and alcohol can also experience bad breath.

Internal factors include oral factors that can affect the body systemically. The tongue provides a place for bacteria to attach and grow. Most odor-causing bacteria produce compounds that cause bad breath called volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). These primary VSCs that cause bad breath are hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan. Most of these odor-causing bacteria reside in the posterior area of the tongue.

Other causes of bad breath can include the following (3):

  • Dental issues (poor oral hygiene, gingivitis and periodontal disease)

  • Dentures (plaque and food can develop on dentures)Dry mouth (lack of saliva flow)

  • Mouth, nose and throat issues (sinus or throat infections and cryptic tonsillitis)

  • Systemic diseases (diabetes, lung infections or abscesses, kidney/liver failure, gastrointestinal conditions)

  • Patients who are dieting on a regular basis

References: 1. American Dental Association, Council on Scientific Affairs: Association report: Oral Malodor, J Am Dent Asso 134:209-214, 2003. 2. The American Breath Specialists. Causes and Treatment of Bad Breath. Reviewed information at 3. Bad Breath, Mayo Clinic, Reviewed information at


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