Sure, you know what bad breath is - after all, everyone has had it at some point - but what is halitosis? What causes oral odor? Where does it come from? Why does your mouth occasionally smell even when you haven't had anything pungent to eat or drink? And most importantly, how can you get rid of it instead of just masking it temporarily?
The Ohio State University Medical Center summarizes the situation pretty succinctly. "There are just as many causes of bad breath as there are sources of bacteria in the mouth," the institute states. In explaining oral odor, you can't avoid talking about microbes.
Basically, there are two types of halitosis.
(1) The rarer variety is caused exclusively by smelly foods, beverages or tobacco products. This form of bad breath is merely the scent of something funky - like garlic, onions, coffee or tobacco smoke - emanating from the mouth.
(2) Much more common is a longer-lasting stink that comes from oral bacteria. This bad smell can be precipitated by any of the funky items listed above, but it can also be triggered by virtually any food or drink, as well as by illness, dry mouth, tonsil stones, post-nasal drip or any other oral condition that bacteria have a hand in.
Though there is no scientific lingo to differentiate between the two, you might call the first "transient halitosis," since it would theoretically disappear as your saliva breaks down the smelly substance. The second type of bad breath, then, would be "chronic halitosis."
This latter term actually does exist. Most cases of bad breath are cyclical. They come back repeatedly, since the bacteria in your mouth form something of a permanent microbiological colony on your tongue. Breaking this cycle typically involves using a specialty breath freshening product to neutralize odors and microbes, followed by a probiotics rinse to replace bad bacteria with good ones.
So, in summary, what is halitosis? A team of oral health experts recently laid it out in an issue of the journal Brazilian Oral Research: "Halitosis is defined as breath that is offensive to others, caused by a variety of reasons including but not limited to periodontal disease, bacterial coating of tongue, systemic disorders and different types of food."
Now that you know where your bad breath comes from, it's time to clear it up. Consider looking into specialty breath freshening mouthwashes, toothpastes, lozenges or gums. The best kinds are all-natural and avoid harsh chemicals like alcohol and sodium lauryl sulfate.