What Causes Bad Breath?

Video: Dr. Katz summarizes the following primary bad breath causes in a short video.

Bad breath (halitosis) is a common condition with multiple causes. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, in more than 90% of cases, the odor originates in the mouth, throat, and tonsils. If brushing, flossing, and rinsing the mouth with an alcohol-free mouthwash doesn’t improve halitosis, it may be chronic.

How Do Anaerobic Bacteria Cause Bad Breath?

Anaerobic, sulfur-producing bacteria breed beneath the surface of the tongue and often in the throat and tonsil area. The term "anaerobic" literally means living without oxygen, and in fact, these bacteria do not require oxygen to live. They occur naturally in the oral environment and aid in digestion by breaking down proteins into amino acids. As bacteria feast on proteins in the mouth, sulfur compounds are released from the back of the tongue and throat. Chemicals such as cadaverine and putrescine are produced in the process, both of which smell very bad.

What Foods Cause Bad Breath?

Four main food categories activate the bacteria responsible for foul-smelling sulfur compounds. Alcohol is a drying agent found in your favorite beer, wine, and hard liquor, as well as many mouthwashes. Alcohol substantially inhibits the flow of saliva, leading to dry mouth, a primary cause of bad breath.

Sugar-laden gum and mints may temporarily mask bad breath, but they exacerbate anaerobic bacteria. Other types of bacteria in the mouth use sugars to produce glycan strands, causing thick layers of plaque on tooth enamel and around the gums. Glycan strands can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath.

Dairy, meat, fish, eggs, several types of nuts and seeds, and many types of beans contain dense proteins. Consumption of these foods creates an oral condition in which proteins are easily broken down into volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) by anaerobic bacteria, thereby causing halitosis.

Acidic foods such as coffee, tomato juice, pineapple juice, all citrus juices, sodas, pasta sauce, ketchup, pickles, fatty meats, olives, butter, and chocolate can cause bacteria to produce faster. Sufficient salivary flow is necessary to neutralize acids from these foods. When the mouth is dry, acids can erode tooth enamel, damage gums, and promote anaerobic bacteria.

How Does Dry Mouth Lead to Bad Breath?

A dry mouth provides a fertile ground for billions of anaerobic bacteria living on the tongue, teeth and palate. Without saliva to keep them in check, they multiply and release VSCs as a byproduct. The end result is waking up with terrible morning breath, which can last throughout the day.

What Health Conditions Cause Bad Breath?

While most cases of halitosis are caused by oral health conditions including chronic dry mouth, gum disease, tonsil stones, and poor oral hygiene, diseases impacting other parts of the body are a contributing factor. Certain systemic diseases affecting multiple organs and tissues such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, metabolic disorders, and hypertension can induce non-oral bad breath. Moreover, many prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause dry mouth and lead to bad breath.

How is Bad Breath Treated?

Avoiding specific foods, good oral hygiene and treating dry mouth are preventive measures. Clinically tested and free of alcohol, sugar, and harsh ingredients, TheraBreath bad breath solutions attack the bacteria responsible for bad breath, leaving your mouth feeling fresh and clean. Choose from a wide selection of oral rinses, toothpastes, throat sprays, lozenges, and chewing gum.

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