Bad breath (Halitosis) and how to fix it

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Wednesday, 21 August, 2019

8 bad breath triggers and how to fix it

While we all do our best to avoid it, nearly one quarter of people suffer from bad breath (halitosis). There are plenty of simple dental habits that can help you avoid bad breath – from cutting out garlic to brushing your teeth before breakfast. Here’s our top 8 bad breath triggers and tips on how to fix it: 

  • Dehydration or dry mouth 

Ever wondered why your breath smells worse in the morning? When we’re asleep or dehydrated, the amount of saliva in your mouth drops significantly. Saliva helps wash away food between the teeth. Without it, the bacteria in your mouth can thrive and cause bad breath. Dry mouth (xerostomia) is also a common side effect of medication and some diseases. 

Tip: Be sure to drink lots of water during the day and keep a glass next to your bed at night. 

  • Poor oral hygiene

Just like bacteria requires food to survive, it also creates waste in the process. And for some bacteria in our mouth, the waste product is a very smelly sulphur compound which is often the cause of bad breath. Brushing, flossing and rinsing regularly helps reduce the bacteria in your mouth, which reduces the amount of smelly sulphur compounds too. 

Tip: Brush before breakfast so you don’t ingest all that bad bacteria or give it time to thrive. 

  • Smelly food

Delicious foods such as garlic, spices and onions can also affect your breath. When you’re digesting these foods, the strong smells can exit the lungs and cause food-related bad breath. Dairy is another common culprit as it thickens nasal mucous, which is a source of nutrients for the bacteria that cause bad breath. 

Tip: Skip the onions, cheese and garlic, and limit sugary food that encourages bacterial growth. 

  • Smoking

Smoking is responsible for some chronic bad breath, but it’s not just the chemicals in tobacco that are to blame. The act of smoking causes a dry mouth which creates an environment that allows bacteria to thrive. Yet another reason to give up smoking for good! 

Tip: Quit smoking. Enough said. 

  • Dental prosthetics

Poorly maintained and ill-fitting dentures are a breeding ground for bacteria. Often people will wear their denture through the night with food trapped around or under it. This allows bacteria to flourish and results in the bad breath. 

Tip: Clean your dentures daily and store in water at night (don’t wear them in bed).

  • Sore throat 

In addition to some of the more usual sore throat symptoms, bad breath may be a sign of tonsillitis. Sometimes food, dead cells and other materials get trapped in the crevices in your tonsils. Over time, this can build up and eventually harden into white deposits called tonsil stones (tonsoliths) which contain compressed sulphur compounds, mucus and bacteria. 

Tip: Tonsil stones can be present without a sore throat. See your doctor if you are concerned. 

  • Upper and lower respiratory infections

Sinusitis, nasal polyps and post-nasal drip can all cause bad breath as they encourage the build-up of microbes, foreign objects and metabolites that cause bad breath. (Conditions that affect the lower airways – such as asthma, bronchitis and croup – can also be a source of bad breath for different reasons.) 

Tip: Blow your nose or use a saline nasal spray every day and keep your airways clear and limit the food source for bad breath bacteria. 

  • Systemic diseases

Halitosis can indicate a disease elsewhere in the body; and bad breath as a potential diagnostic tool has been the subject of much research. For example, a fruity smell (also known as ketone breath) may indicate uncontrolled diabetes while a fishy smell may indicate kidney disease. It’s best to see your dentist or doctor if you notice an usual smell to your breath. 

Tip: Speak to your dentist if you have concerns.


Keep up with your oral hygiene and discuss any concerns with your indeedadentist to prevent any issues with bad breath. 

Dr David Hills graduated from the Dental School at Griffith University in 2009. Prior to this David had finished 4 years of study in Biomedical Science completing a scholarship with the Heart Foundation Research Centre. David has spent the last 7 years working as a dentist on the Gold Coast where he has gained a reputation for providing exceptional quality dental care.