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What’s that Smell? Eradicating Bad Breath: Causes and Cures

by | May 14, 2018

Halitosis is the medical term used to refer to bad breath, but if you are suffering with it, you probably feel that it simply stinks – especially since your friends and relatives are sharing in your suffering!

There are a variety of issues that can contribute to bad breath, including smoking, tooth decay, the use of orthodontic appliances (especially if these appliances are not properly cared for) as well as the improper cleaning of fixed bridges. Let’s examine all the possible causes of bad breath, as well as how to cure it.

What Causes Bad Breath?

There are more than 70 types of bacteria in the mouth, some of these are healthy bacteria; however, when halitosis is present, there is usually an overgrowth of the ‘bad’ bacteria in the mouth. Nevertheless, bad breath can also be a sign of a serious health problem; therefore, determining the reason an individual is experiencing halitosis is crucial.

Bad Breath Odors and What They May Mean

Sometimes, the way an individual’s breath smells can help identify underlying health issues.

Some of these odors and possible health issues include:
  •         Fruity – uncontrolled diabetes
  •         Cheesy – has a nasal origin
  •         Ammonia – kidney problems
  •         Musty, Sweet – cirrhosis of the liver
  •         Acidic – cystic fibrosis or asthma
  •         Fecal – bowel obstruction or protein breakdown on the tongue, or gum tissue

Individuals experiencing bad breath should schedule a dental exam: A dentist can determine if dental issues are causing the halitosis or if an underlying problem may need to be addressed.

Causes, Symptoms, and Cures

Dental Disease

Halitosis due to dental disease smells like rotten eggs (i.e., sulfur) or feces.

Bad breath is the first sign of poor dental hygiene: Unless at-home dental hygiene practices improve and biannual cleanings are implemented, further periodontal problems are likely.

Health Issues That Can Lead to Bad Breath

Up to 10 percent of the people who have halitosis are experiencing bad breath due to health issues that are not related to their dental hygiene.


According to Mayo Clinic, dehydration is the second leading cause of halitosis. Not staying hydrated causes saliva production to slow, which leads to dry mouth. This lack of saliva causes food particles to remain in the mouth longer, providing bacteria with plenty of sustenance. Address dehydration by drinking plenty of water, sports drinks, and chew sugar-free gum to keep the saliva flowing.


The tonsils make white blood cells and antibodies to attack germs inside the mouth. There are three forms of tonsillitis: acute, chronic, and recurrent. Tonsillitis can be caused by bacteria (usually streptococcus bacterium) or viruses.

The symptoms of tonsillitis may include:
  •         bad breath;
  •         a red, sore throat (may be severe);
  •         an earache;
  •         swollen glands under the jaw;
  •         a headache;
  •         a fever (may be high);
  •         yellow or white spots on the tonsils themselves; and
  •         a small child may experience pain in the abdomen.

Up to 30 percent of these infections occur due to bacteria; whereas, the rest are caused by viruses. If streptococcus bacterium (i.e., strep throat) is the cause, the doctor will need to prescribe an antibiotic; however, if a virus is the cause, warm salt water gargles and removal of the tonsil stones may be helpful.

Drug Breath

Certain medications are known to cause dry mouth. Some of these medications include those that are used to treat depression, epilepsy and asthma. Individuals who take these kinds of medications need to avoid eating foods and drinking beverages that are known to rid the body of excess salt or fluid (i.e., coffee, alcoholic beverages, ginger, parsley, and dandelion). Reduce the symptoms of dry mouth by chewing sugar-free gum and keeping a bottle of water on hand. Also, there are over-the-counter products available that are specifically designed to address the symptoms associated with dry mouth.

Sinus Breath

Sinusitis occurs when the nasal sinuses become inflamed: This inflammation may be short-term (caused by an infection) or long-term (caused by structural problems and/or allergies). Other issues associated with sinus breath include post-nasal drip and/or nasal polyps. Symptoms experienced depend on the severity of the condition and the sinuses affected.

Potential symptoms include:
  •         mucus that is a thick yellow or green that drips from the nose or down the back of one’s throat;
  •         cough/sore throat;
  •         toothache;
  •         bad taste in mouth;
  •         headache;
  •         obstructive sleep apnea;
  •         fever;
  •         fatigue;
  •         pressure that worsens upon leaning forward;
  •         loss of smell/taste;
  •         post-nasal drip; and/or
  •         pain/feeling of fullness in the face.

If allergies are causing the problem, daily allergy medication and annual allergy shots may be recommended. If a sinus infection is present, antibiotics may be prescribed.

Certain Diets – Metabolic Breath

Hunger Breath

Regularly fasting or skipping meals reduces the amount of saliva in the mouth, which causes the mouth to become dry. Without an adequate amount of saliva, the bacteria cannot be cleared away. To keep from experiencing hunger breath, eat and drink regularly.

Ketone Breath

Low-carb diets can make the body use fat for fuel. This process produces ketones. When these ketones are released in the breath, they give off an acetone or fruit-and-nut odor. Once the body adjusts to the low-carb diet, the ketone breath should subside.

Anyone experiencing lasting bad breath should first contact their dentist to gain clarity on the origin of the odor. If the smell is not related to the mouth or teeth, then a consultation with a doctor for consideration of the cause may be necessary, as it may be a sign of a more serious health issue.  

Triangle Dentistry, located in Raleigh, NC, provides a state-of-the-art facility that offers exceptional general dental and specialty services guided by empathy of a patient’s needs and desires. Services range from dental crowns to veneers and whitening procedures. For further information, questions, or to schedule an appointment, contact the office at (919) 747-3608.