Halitosis or Bad Breath – Cause, Symptom, Diagnosis & Treatment

bad breath or halitosis may cause embarrassment

Halitosis, commonly known as bad breath, is prevalent in 50% Americans and between 20% to 30% in Indians. (1) The condition may not impede you from following a daily routine but can become a reason for you to live in anxiety and embarrassment.

If you are a victim of Halitosis, then you will avoid close encounters with people. Usually, we think that if we brush twice a day, then it is sufficient to keep our gums and teeth healthy.

But in fact, it takes more than brushing twice a day to maintain good oral hygiene. For instance, your lifestyle, food habits, health, etc.

Even if you are having halitosis, it could be still tricky to detect it on your own. You wait for that disconcerting moment when your girlfriend avoids a simple kiss.

In short, you come to know that you have halitosis when your family and friends point out bad odor coming out of your mouth.

So, what do you do when you come to know that you have Halitosis?

Mostly, people change toothpaste, use different mouthwashes, brush twice, etc. But still, bad breath prevails.

Is it tough to treat Halitosis?

Not really! Let’s go deeper into this topic and understand what is Halitosis, what causes bad breath, symptom, diagnosis, and bad breath treatment.

What is Halitosis?

Halitosis is also known by several common and uncommon medical names such as bad breath, oral malodor, stomatodysodia, fetor oris, and ozostomia. It is characterized by the unpleasant smell coming out of the mouth.

However, bad breath could be chronic as well as occasional. Occasional bad breath can be caused by the consumption of foods and drinks, which have a strong smell. Typical examples are Onion, Garlic, Cigarette, Beer, Liquor, etc.

Whereas, there could be several factors contributing to chronic Halitosis. Some of the most common cause of chronic Halitosis are tobacco consumption, dry mouth, ill-fitting dentures, medical conditions, poor dental cleaning, etc.

Surprisingly, the biggest reason for Halitosis, almost 70% of all causes, is poor oral hygiene. The foul oral smell is caused by anaerobic, sulfur-producing bacteria that breed in the mouth, mostly in the throat, tonsil and tongue region.

bad breath or halitosis bacteria

These bacteria are required as they help in digestion. While the bacteria break the protein into amino acids, malodorous and bad tasting compounds are released. In short, they go on releasing foul smell compounds if there is the minutest amount of protein in the mouth.

And for your information, proteins can be found in food, blood, phlegm, and in ailing oral tissues.

Bad breath can have a depressive impact on your personality. A Halitosis patient loses his confidence when it comes to face to face interaction with friends, colleagues, superiors and even with family members.

What causes bad breath?

There could be several reasons for bad breath. But today, we will discuss the top four and the most common reasons that cause bad breath or halitosis.

Poor dental hygiene

There are several factors which can contribute to poor dental health such as insufficient or no brushing of teeth, no use of floss, improper tongue cleaning, etc.

Ideally, you should brush after every meal. Dentists recommend brushing at least twice a day. But how many of us bush twice a day? Data says that 30% of Americans do not brush twice a day and approximately 23% spend a few days without brushing (2).

Inadequate brushing, occasional use of floss and improper tongue cleaning help microorganisms to breed for extended periods. Bacterial accumulation can lead to dental plaque, which is nothing but a biofilm near the gumline. This can result in several gum diseases such as periodontitis and gingivitis.

All these diseases will lead to bleeding and diseased oral tissue, which are nothing but a source of protein. As I told you earlier, anaerobic bacteria survive on protein and release bad odor compounds causing bad breath or halitosis.

Food habits

If you have a habit of eating a lot of onion and garlic, then you may suffer from occasional bad breath issues. The only way of getting rid of occasional bad breath is brushing after every meal.

All meat products are rich in proteins and attract bacteria soon after a meal. Also, sugary based products are lovable to bacteria causing bad breath.

Nonalcoholic drinks like a carbonated drink, juice, coffee, tea, etc. are acidic and hence a conducive environment for bacteria to grow.

So, does it mean that you avoid these foods? Absolutely, No!

I have one word if you want to have all these foods – Brush, floss and clean your tongue after you have these foods in your meal.

Dry mouth

Dry mouth can happen due to less intake of water, a lot of speaking, alcohol consumption, smoking, etc. Usually, saliva helps in the removal of temporary bad breath in the mouth.

The dry mouth becomes a conducive environment for bacteria to breed and produce bad odor compounds. That’s why even from bad odor perspective, it is important to remain hydrated.

Several diseases such as liver disease, diabetes, liver problems, etc. can lead to dry mouth. Excessive medication can also cause dry mouth.

Disease or medical condition

There are several diseases which can lead to Halitosis or bad breath. Lung disease, diabetes, liver disease, pneumonia, respiratory tract infections, etc. causes dry mouth and in turn chronic bad breath issues.

All these diseases require heavy medication. Excessive medication is also a cause of dry mouth and ultimately bad breath disorder.

If you are wearing ill-fitted dentures, then food particles will cling to your teeth. Not to mention, it will become a heaven for the microorganism to grow and produce bad breath compounds in abundance.


The most common halitosis symptom is people avoiding direct face to face talk with you. If someone brings you in a notice about your bad breath problem, then do not feel offended.

Another way of finding out bad breath on your own is to lick your wrist, wait for a minute and sniff it. If the smell is bad, then you are a victim of halitosis.

Also, other bad breath symptoms could be a thick coating on the tongue, burning sensation in the mouth, bitter taste, etc.


We are used to our smell and sometimes it is difficult to even smell our perfume. So, we cannot rely on licking and sniffing technique for proper diagnosis. Let me tell some of the effective methods to diagnose halitosis:

  • Floss your teeth and take out the floss and smell it.
  • A tongue scraper can be another way to detect your bad breath.

Treatment options

The easiest way of getting yourself treated for halitosis is by visiting a dentist. Maybe after a few weeks of treatment can cure your bad breath issue. But if you want to treat yourself on your own, then there are many home remedies available.

Good oral care

This is a no-brainer. You should immediately start following proper care of your mouth. When I say good care, then I mean brushing after every meal, flossing at least once a day and cleaning your tongue every time.

Good toothpaste and mouthwash

There are several medicated toothpaste are available in the market which can help you in fighting bad breath. You can even supplement yourself with a good mouthwash. Mouthwash gives instant relief from bad breath.

Increase salivary flow

You can eat sugar-free chewing gums and lozenges to avoid dry mouth condition. Drink more water and keep yourself hydrated. Avoid speaking for long without water.

Avoid cigarette and alcohol

Cigarettes and alcohol do no good to health either. So, avoid them as much as you can. If you are a heavy smoker, then you can see the improvement just by leaving the cigarette.

Eat healthily

Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Avoid meat diet as much as you can. Fruits are a great source of energy too. Also, the fruit will moisten your mouth and will prevent dry mouth condition.

Do not get over obsessed with bad breath

Sometimes people are over-obsessed with bad breath even if it is not there. For instance, if you get up in the morning then your mouth will stink. But is it halitosis? Absolutely, No!

Morning halitosis is natural and it happens due to stagnation of saliva throughout your sleep.


I will always recommend to prevent bad breath rather than treat bad breath. But if the situation goes out of hand then immediately see a dentist.

Halitosis is not a life-threatening disease, but it can decrease your self-esteem and self-confidence. Sometimes, people also avoid talking to someone who has bad breath problems.

Also, there could be some other disease underlying halitosis. So, do not treat it casually. You must take good oral care. Smile, laugh and talk with confidence.

Neha has done BDS. She is a Dentist by profession. She has got a beautiful smile and wishes the same for everyone by maintaining good oral health & hygiene. She is working as Sr Editor in Stemjar.