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Halitosis Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Guide

Halitosis This in-depth guide covers the signs and symptoms of halitosis as well as practical solutions to target its root cause.


Halitosis affects millions of Americans every year. Despite having an effective oral hygiene regimen, many people are prone to overgrowths of protein-eating bacteria that cause halitosis. In extreme cases, bad breath can also be a sign of underlying health conditions. However, these cases are rare and most individuals with halitosis are generally in good health. With the proper tools and speciality products, anyone can control this common health condition.

Table of Contents

  • 1. What is Halitosis?
  • 2. Symptoms of Halitosis
  • 3. Common Halitosis Causes
  • 4. Halitosis Treatment Methods
  • 5. Tips and Strategies
  • 6. Summary

1. What is Halitosis?

Halitosis is a chronic condition that affects more than 90 million Americans or 25 percent of the U.S. population. The majority of halitosis cases are caused by bacteria and microbes that reside inside the mouth. The remaining 10 percent of cases are caused by rare medical conditions. Halitosis is a global problem that affects people in all parts of the world. Bacteria and the foods that feed these odor-causing microbes have been causing halitosis for thousands of years. The famous physician Hippocrates was among the first to recommend an herbal mouthwash containing red wine and spices as a treatment for halitosis, and he did this in 1550 B.C. Although the ancient Egyptians developed recipes for toothpaste that predate the great pyramids, toothbrushes are a much newer invention that have been in use for the past 500 years. Despite these ancient inventions and many recent high-tech advances, bad breath and halitosis are chronic problems for many people.

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As many bad breath sufferers already know, chronic halitosis is an uncomfortable and embarrassing problem that affects the person with this issue, as well as the people around them. Halitosis is often associated with morning breath. However, this chronic condition can strike any time day or night. At work, at home, on a date or with a spouse, bad breath is an embarrassing problem that can cause social anxiety and affect your confidence. Bad breath is an indiscriminant condition that affects the entire population, young and old in one form or another. International studies show that only 17 percent of army recruits at age 20 had never had halitosis or morning breath.

Chronic halitosis can be aggravated by diet, oral health conditions, oral hygiene methods, smoking, drinking and medications that cause dry mouth. Because bad breath often disappears after brushing, flossing and gargling with a specialty mouthwash, it can be difficult to measure the severity of the condition.

2. What are the Symptoms of Halitosis?

For less than one percent of the population, bad breath is a constant fear, although they don't have any unusual breath odors. On the other side, many people with halitosis aren't aware of their condition. Self-diagnosing bad breath is difficult because many people with halitosis are desensitized to the smell of their own breath although they have no difficulty detecting halitosis in others. Although patients with halitosis often experience unusual flavors, bad tastes are not a comprehensive indicator of bad breath. Some genetic factors can also contribute to halitosis. For example, patients with large taste buds or papillae are more likely to have odor-causing bacteria trapped and growing on their tongues.

To confirm the presence of bad breath, have a trusted friend or family member smell your breath and nose to determine the source of the odor. Occasionally, sinus infections and post-nasal drip can affect the taste and smell of breath. More than 85 percent of all halitosis cases are related to bacteria residing in the mouth. Consuming protein-rich foods, including meat and cheese, can also aggravate the condition, particularly when these foods are allowed to cling to teeth for extended periods. Diet, alcohol and smoking have also been linked to bad breath and halitosis.

Morning breath and bad odors or tastes when your mouth is closed for extended periods are two of the most common symptoms of halitosis. Many odor-causing bacteria thrive in anaerobic or low-oxygen environments. If your mouth is closed for hours at night and for a good portion of the day, it gives the odor-causing bacteria a chance to multiply and metabolize food particles at a faster rate.

Halitosis causes include everything from impacted teeth to diabetes. However, increased bacterial growth is the most common root cause. While biofilm accumulations on the tongue do not show an exact correlation to the level of odor, a whitish or yellowish film on the tongue is one indication of excessive bacterial colonies. In addition to a persistent coating on the tongue, many cases of halitosis are accompanied by dryness in the mouth. Saliva is an important part of the digestive process and it is also vital for keeping the mouth, gums and tongue hydrated while washing away food particles and bacteria and simultaneously maintaining a healthy pH level.

3. What are Common Halitosis Causes?

The human mouth is home to more than 600 unique bacterial organisms. In a patient with fresh breath, these bacteria are carefully balanced and undesirable odor-causing microorganisms are minimized. Scientists have identified approximately 32 species of bacteria that are only found in patients suffering from halitosis. These odor-causing microorganisms live by breaking down proteins into amino acids and gaseous byproducts. The smell of bad breath is often pervasive because it contains a number of notoriously foul smelling compounds and volatile gases, including hydrogen sulfide, the compound responsible for rotten eggs, dimethyl sulfide, which produces a fishy odor and methanethiol, a compound found in rotten cabbage, aged cheeses and several other unsavory items.

Odor-causing bacteria are the chief cause of halitosis, but it's important to note there are typically underlying conditions that give bacteria a comfortable place to live. Good dental health is one aspect of deterring the bacteria that cause halitosis. These microorganisms live on dentures, in abscessed teeth, between teeth and inside gum pockets. Patients with unsightly puffy gums, enlarged gum pockets and excessive plaque have a much higher risk for developing halitosis. Other conditions inside the mouth that cause halitosis include tonsil stones or tonsilloliths. Tonsil stones are calcified growths that accumulate inside the enlarged tonsil cavities. This calcified material shows up as small white lumps on either side of the throat. Halitosis caused by tonsil stones is often accompanied with a sore throat, difficulty swallowing and a bad taste in the back of the mouth.

4. What is the Best Halitosis Treatment Method?

An effective halitosis treatment plan starts with a good oral health regimen. Individuals with halitosis should floss, brush and gargle carefully and thoroughly. Dietary changes can also improve bad breath and create an environment that is inhospitable to odor-causing bacteria. To overcome halitosis and target odor-causing bacteria, most individuals need to adapt an ongoing treatment plan and daily oral health regimen that can be used at home, at work and on the go. In addition to thoroughly flossing and brushing, anyone suffering from halitosis should follow up with a gentle tongue scraper or tongue cleaner and a speciality mouthwash. Using specially designed tongue scrapers is the most effective way to physically remove bacteria from the tongue. Tongue scrapers and tongue cleaners can remove much more bacteria than a toothbrush alone. Proper brushing should include the teeth, gums and cheeks to ensure all food and bacteria are thoroughly removed. In many cases, switching to an automatic toothbrush is a great way to remove more food, plaque and biofilm accumulations.

Zinc gluconate is an important ingredient featured in antibacterial mouth rinses, oxygenating chewing gum and odor-controlling toothpastes, including those produced by TheraBreath. Zinc gluconate is a dietary form of zinc paired with gluconic acid, which is naturally produced by Penicillium and beneficial bacteria as well as fermenting glucose. Zinc ingredients are essential for neutralizing the bacteria that cause oral malodors in the first place. Specialty throat sprays and mouthwash attack bacteria and natural odors rather than covering them up. However, antibacterial mouthwashes are just part of eliminating odor-causing bacteria. At work or during the day, a small toothbrush, a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, and a small bottle of mouthwash are perfect for removing embedded food particles and the protein that bacteria crave.

Simple dietary changes can also improve halitosis and focus on root causes. Fruits and vegetables with high fiber content are great for removing biofilm and bacteria. Even abrasive cereals like shredded wheat can help remove bacteria growing inside the mouth while benefiting the digestive system as well. Fresh or frozen berries are another great food that can create an inhospitable environment for bacteria. These fresh fruits are naturally rich in vitamin C, which is excellent for repelling odor-causing bacteria. The natural cultures in yogurt are another great way to introduce friendly bacteria into the digestive system.

Chewing sugar-free gum after meals, at work or during problem times during the day can help control embarrassing breath odors by stimulating the production of saliva and collecting food and bacteria. Effective treatment regimens include solutions that are easy to use every day, after every meal and on the go. Portable throat sprays and alcohol-free breath sprays that neutralize odors are a great way to stay on top of the situation, so you have fresh breath for appointments, client consultations and outings with friends.

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TheraBreath® Products to Treat Halitosis

Fortunately, TheraBreath oral hygiene products provide effective and powerful ingredients that are necessary to alleviate bad breath and the embarrassing problems caused by Chronic Halitosis. Since bad breath occurs primarily due to mouth dryness, lack of saliva flow, accumulated mouth debris and the proliferation of anaerobic bacteria, TheraBreath mouthwashes, gargles and rinses do not contain any ingredients that exacerbate these conditions (namely alcohol and sodium lauryl sulfate). These bad breath remedies do not simply mask halitosis; instead, they directly attack the sources of bad breath by stimulating saliva flow and circulating antibacterial, oxygen-rich saliva to all areas in the mouth.

TheraBreath mouthwashes and toothpastes attack VSC-producing anaerobic bacteria that hide in the back of the throat and thrive on protein-rich mucus and post-nasal drip. In addition, the airless, stagnant conditions existing behind the tonsils provide an optimal environment in which these bacteria can reproduce unabated. By cleansing the throat with oxygenating TheraBreath mouthwashes and rinses, billions of anaerobes succumb to the special OXYD-8 ingredient included in many of TheraBreath's products, leaving no sulfurous compounds to fill the mouth with noxious odors. Moreover, using TheraBreath toothpaste along with the mouthwash boosts the bad breath fighting ability of both products to provide users with the freshest breath they have ever experienced.

5. Tips and Strategies

Diet is a contributing factor for many individuals with halitosis. Avoidance is an effective treatment method in cases of halitosis that are aggravated by smoking, coffee, alcoholic beverages and volatile foods such as garlic and onions. The sugar and proteins found in energy drinks and sports beverages can also feed the bacteria that cause bad breath. Different substances can affect halitosis and the environment within the mouth. For example, smoking can dry the mouth and deplete oxygen while coffee alters the pH with its excessive acidity. However, drinking plenty of water and neutral liquids is a good way to stay hydrated and remove food debris from the mouth.

A multi-pronged approach is the best solution for tackling a problem with halitosis and eliminating established bacteria colonies. Good oral health procedures with appropriate products are important parts of any odor reduction plan. Data from one medical study showed that tongue scrapers reduced participants bad breath by 70 percent. Specially designed tools and products for combating bad breath are inexpensive and can alleviate an embarrassing personal problem, so you can make halitosis a thing of the past.

6. Summary

In addition to using at-home products for neutralizing bacteria and odors, individuals should check with a dentist and schedule regular checkups to stay on top of their oral health and reduce tooth problems or tonsil stones that cause bad breath. Eliminating the most severe halitosis is possible with the right tools, products and treatment methods.

An effective, on-going halitosis treatment plan can alleviate bad breath and make everyday situations more comfortable for everyone. Convenient TheraBreath starter kits are available with everything you need to reduce sour, bitter and metallic tastes and undesirable odors at home or on the go. Switching to specially formulated toothpaste and oral rinses is the key to banishing odor-causing bacteria and saying goodbye to bad breath and chronic halitosis.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure or prevent any disease.  The information contained herein is for educational purposes only. Before initiating any new oral treatment, please consult your oral care professional.




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