Bad Breath: Causes and Cures

Bad breath isn't just unpleasant; it could also be a red flag for something more serious. Here are the basics of what causes bad breath and how to cure it.

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Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

Bad breath is not only unpleasant for you and those around you, it can also be indicative of serious health conditions – similar to other body odors, bad breath can be the body’s way of saying that something is wrong.

How do I know if I have bad breath?

See if you have bad breath by trying this out at home: Lick the inside of your wrist and sniff. If it smells bad, chances are your breath does too. Now look in the mirror at your tongue. Is it yellow or white? If so, you probably have bad breath.

What causes bad breath?

Bad breath is primarily caused by poor oral hygiene – that is, not flossing daily and brushing at least twice per day. It can also be caused by underlying conditions, such as gum disease and even diabetes, malnutrition, or cancer to name a few.

So many people are shocked that they have bad breath because they “brush after every meal.” If you aren’t flossing, you’re not removing bad breath causing plaque and bacteria from 30% of your teeth’s surfaces. Use a tongue scraper as well – you’ll be amazed at how much gunk you scrape off your tongue. First-time tongue scrapers may even see some blood come off the scraper and then later a yellow fluid. It may take 6 months of proper tongue scraping to stop seeing any of this debris on your scraper, which is normal if you’ve never tongue scraped before.

Which mouthwash should I use to get rid of bad breath?

The best mouthwash to get rid of bad breath is no mouthwash. Mouthwash dries out the mouth, which is the opposite of what you want to get rid of bad breath – lots of saliva is what disorganizes plaque and keeps bacteria from growing out of control in your mouth. Mouthwash can also upset the normal ratio of good and bad bugs in your mouth, thus making things smell bad.

I don’t care how minty your mouthwash is or how much it makes your mouth tingle – these are masking agents that do nothing to help, if not exacerbate, your bad breath. Ditch the mouthwash and swish with water after you brush instead.

Does garlic cause bad breath?

The oils from stinky foods like onions and garlic can be detected on the breath up to 3 days after consumption. There’s no need to stop enjoying garlic – I recommend eating an apple or chewing on gum to increase saliva production in the mouth. Saliva is your best friend when it comes to bad breath – not mouthwash!

How do I cure bad breath?

  • Discontinue using mouthwash.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Brush and floss after every meal. It’s old-fashioned, but it works!
  • Use a tongue scraper.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Take an oral probiotic.

If your bad breath persists despite following these suggestions and, most importantly, flossing daily and brushing after meals, see your dentist. Having great oral hygiene, drinking plenty of water, and not smoking – but still having bad breath – could indicate that you have a more serious underlying condition.

Mark Burhenne DDS

Learn More: Foods to Eat—And Foods to Avoid—to Heal Cavities Naturally