What is halitosis ? It is a form of bad breath. There’s a big difference between eating a particular food and getting a “garlic breath”, for example, and suffering from chronic bad breath.

The odor can come from bacteria found in the mouth or decaying food particles. The most common factor is poor oral hygiene, but let’s not make this a rule. Some individuals who suffer from certain illnesses can end up developing halitosis.

What is halitosis all about? Let’s take an in-depth look into the causes to find out how we can prevent and treat bad breath.

What Is Halitosis woman covering her mouth

What Is Halitosis?

What is halitosis all about? Also known as bad breath, or oral malodor, it is a viewed more as a symptom than as an illness. Halitosis, in fact, can be an indication of underlying diseases.

When people brush their teeth, the bad odor disappears. But with halitosis, the bad breath lingers and can have an impact on our personal and work life. Chronic oral malodor is sometimes difficult to self-diagnose, but other people will take notice. Because we become familiar with our own scent, some might not even know they suffer from halitosis. However, the repugnant smell will bother family members, friends, and co-workers.

If regular brushing or flossing does not help get rid of the smelly breath, then it’s likely you have halitosis. Let’s see why.

What Is the Cause of Bad Breath?

What is halitosis caused by? When speaking about halitosis, we see a range of causes, some more serious than others. The most common ones include:

• Food particles.
• Gingivitis.
• Severe periodontitis.
• Pericoronitis.
• Oral ulceration.
• Oral malignancy.
• Dry socket.
• Xerostomia.
• Sinusitis.
• Tonsillitis.

Food build-up

When food gets stuck between our teeth, it becomes the perfect medium for bacterial growth. Poor dental hygiene is the number one cause of halitosis. The microbes responsible for bad odor are most likely Gram-negative bacteria.

Regular cleaning of the teeth can both clear and prevent the problem. However, sometimes, brushing the teeth is not enough, and flossing should also be practiced. Furthermore, people with braces must spend  extra time cleaning their teeth because food can definitely get embedded between the teeth and the brackets.

Tartar and gum disease

When the remains of food get stuck between the teeth for extended periods of time, bacteria grows within it, forming plaque, a food bacteria mix. Tartar is calcified plaque that sticks to the teeth so firmly that you cannot manage to simply brush it off. Gum disease, an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the teeth, is also a common cause of halitosis. Decaying food and it’s rancid smell is over powered by dying gum tissue odors caused by gum disease.

Tongue coating

Some people with otherwise good oral hygiene can have the misfortune of developing a coating on the back of their tongue. The coating may be worsened by bacteria laden mucus dripping down from the nose and accumulating on the back of the tongue. Because the coating is primarily bacteria and dead cells, it will cause bad breath.

The coating can be lessened with tongue scrapers either metal or plastic designed to remove the gross excess of bacteria. Even a spoon can be used to scrape of excess bacteria. Test for odor by rubbing some of the removed scrapings between your fingers and smelling it.

Poor lifestyle choices

It’s a known fact that some foods and beverages promote smelly breath. We’re talking garlic, curry, fish, soda, and alcohol, just to name a few. These products remain in the body until excretion, but when we consume them on a regular basis, bad breath becomes a long-lasting issue.

Smoking or chewing tobacco are other harmful habits that will have the malodor linger for an extended period of time.

Medical conditions

Diabetes is a common medical cause for halitosis, because the body produces ketones. This organic compound triggers a bad odor in the mouth. Other diseases that may have an impact on our oral health are lung cancer, blood diseases, and kidney problems. Individuals who suffer from infections (sinus, tonsil infections) or anorexia nervosa are also prone to halitosis.  Dry mouth is also a factor because, without a proper amount of saliva, the bacteria will not be eliminated out of the mouth as with healthy individuals.

Other possible causes include:
• Respiratory tract infection.
• Hepatic failure.
• Renal failure.
• Leukemias.
• Diabetic keto-acidosis.
• Trimethylaminuria or TMAU.

woman smelling her breath

The Main Types of Halitosis

  • Fruity breath. Individuals who have a fruity breath most likely suffer from diabetes or diabetic keto-acidosis.
  • Fecal breath. People whose breath smells like feces may experience the issue because of a bowel obstruction.
  • Ammonia breath. If the odor resembles that of ammonia, the probable cause is chronic kidney failure. If this is observed, consult a doctor immediately.

Diagnostic Methods for Halitosis

Halitosis can be measured using organoleptic intensity and indices, and instruments that calculate the amount of volatile compounds and bacterial enzymes that cause the odors.

The organoleptic method makes use of another person’s nose to smell the breath of the patient and rank the intensity of the smell. This means of diagnosis is, of course, subjective, and highly unpleasant for both parties. However, it is the criterion standard. A 5-point scale or a 10-point scale is used to evaluate the degree of malodor. The intensity is based on Rosenberg’s self-esteem scale.

If you see no changes in the way your breath smells even after making changes to improve your oral hygiene, see a dentist or a dental hygienist. Sometimes, a visit to a general practice physician is called for, to rule out possible medical causes. Don’t hide your problem, as it will only make it difficult to find out what started the problem.

Because it can be difficult to determine if you have bad breath all by yourself, we suggest you run a simple test. Lick the inside of the wrist, but with the back of the tongue. Wait a couple of seconds for the saliva to dry. Smell your wrist. If it smells unpleasant, then it is highly likely that your breath smells the same, too.

How to Cure Bad Breath

treatment for halitosis woman with leaves of mint on her tongue

Proper oral hygiene

What is halitosis “killed” by? The primary treatment for halitosis is a good oral hygiene. People must brush their teeth at least twice a day with a small enough toothbrush head so that it can get into all the tiny areas of the mouth. With a soft-tufted brush and toothpaste, brush your teeth for at least two minutes.

Cover all the angles: the inside of the teeth, the outside area, and the biting areas. Focus on the tiny gaps between the teeth where food might get stuck, and the area where the teeth meet the gum tissue. Electrical toothbrushes that have a rotation-oscillation action are better at removing plaque and debris than manual toothbrushes.

To clean between the teeth, it would be best to use dental floss or an interdental brush. Scrape the floss up and down against each tooth six times, then pulling upward from the gums.

To prevent tooth erosion, avoid eating acidic foods. Because many foods and drinks contain acids, the enamel is softened when exposed to certain products.  Clean your teeth right after eating.

And do not disregard the tongue. Some may notice that even if they clean their teeth regularly, the odor still remains. The tongue may be the source of the bad smell. Tongue scraping helps reduce oral malodor as mentioned earlier.

Cut back on certain foods and drinks

Overindulging in sugar and sugary foods is common in our day and age when almost everything contains sugars. However, we must limit the amount of sugar-containing foods, particularly snacks.

Fizzy drinks and fruit juices should also be avoided, as they tend to be highly acidic.


People with halitosis should use mouthwash every day. The elements in these products can kill bacteria and neutralize the chemicals that are responsible for bad breath. When you go shopping for a mouthwash, you may find the following ingredients that are effective in reducing the malodor: chlorhexidine, chlorine dioxide, cetylpyridinium chloride, zinc chloride, and triclosan. Typical mouthwashes will contain at least one of the former mentioned ingredients.

One particular brand utilizes a two part liquid system that promises 12 hours of odor free breath. One part contains sodium chlorite, a chemical that readily combines with existing stinky sulfur compounds responsible for bad breath.  And a second part, with zinc ions that keeps bacteria from being able to ingest proteins that cause new stinky sulfur compounds from being produced.

Stop smoking

Smoking and chewing tobacco are two habits that cause a smelly breath. Kicking this bad habit is not as impossible as it may seem.

Stay hydrated

A good production of saliva is crucial because it helps wash away the bacteria in the mouth. Drink lots of water, chew sugar-free gum (but do not exaggerate) to stimulate the production of saliva.

Chewing citric fruits is a no no.

Chewing on lemon or an orange will stimulate the salivary glands and also diminish bad breath but at the risk of softening your enamel. If bad breath is persistent see your holistic dentist.

Natural remedies

Natural oils such as peppermint, wintergreen, or eucalyptus oils are effective when it comes to diminishing malodor. Essential oils used in some brands of mouthwashes also appear to be effective. Essential oils can also be antibacterial but must be used in a diluted water solution to avoid damaging sensitive oral tissues.

Homemade mouthwashes consisting of oil of peppermint or oil of cloves in a diluted solution can be refreshing and relieve you of bad breath odor.  Essential oils are a good natural remedy for halitosis because they minimize the inflammation of the gums that may lead to bad breath. They help to control the bacterial cause.

Experimental methods

Some remedies include probiotic bacteria to replace the bad bacteria and light exposure, or lethal photosensitization. A diode laser and methylene blue, a sensitizing agent for oral bacteria causing gum disease, are being researched to determine the safety and effectiveness of  lethal photosensitization as a means of controlling breath malodor through bacterial destruction.

What Is Halitophobia?

woman with bad breath

Now that we have determined what is halitosis and how we can cure it, let’s speak about another sensitive subject – halitophobia. Patients with halitophobia are convinced they have halitosis although it may not true.

People with pseudo-halitosis often display an odd behavior. They usually cover their mouth when speaking, they keep a distance from other individuals, and may also go as far as avoiding social occasions. More often, people suffering from halitophobia show signs of depression.

This is why it is important to consult a doctor and not rely on self-diagnosis. People with pseudo-halitosis should seek psychological help to treat the condition.

Now that you know what is halitosis, we hope the remedies presented just above will relieve your condition. Let us know how you got rid of halitosis and what treatment do you consider to be the best.

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